I know it’s been a grim year on the world stage and here in the UK. The refugee crisis, the war in Syria, the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US possibly eclipse any other apocalyptic news cycle in my memory at least. Added to that, the deaths of so many of our artistic national treasures has made it feel even more bleak, as the people we look to for hope, creativity and sunshine have gone. David Bowie, AA Gill, Alan Rickman, George Michael – important, iconic people for me and for many. We each have our own favourites to mourn.
However, by nature, experience and vocation I am an optimist. In my life I have always found the magic and the miracles in the midst of the mess and the carnage. The story of human interaction with God found in the Bible also shows this to be the case. This year I have struggled to come to terms with the sudden end of my marriage and the hideous process of filing for divorce, uprooting and selling our family home, and learning to be a single parent. And I’ve tried to begin to learn about how the processes of healing, forgiveness, and recovery might work, how to care for and offer kindness to myself in the midst of the pain, and which of my spiritual practices and disciplines would be helpful or unhelpful for this new phase of life. There have been times of extreme agony, anger and implosion. There have been times of sheer exhaustion and giving up, and times of barely creeping along, like a snail, simply surviving and little more.
Over time the horror has given way to new avenues. Moving to a new house and working together with others to make it into a home, figuring out what elements we might need as a new shaped family for that to work. Discovering that there are beautiful fields and country walks right at the top of our street, and exploring all those new landscapes with the dog who has been a constant and beloved friend. Meeting new neighbours and dog walkers and beginning to feel a sense of belonging here, awakening to others again a little. Seeing inside myself and noticing the control issues and the constant rage at powerlessness, and deciding to be kind to that. Finding friends who offer love by being quietly constant and undemanding, who don’t offer incessant spiritual ‘solutions’, learning from them how to be a better friend. What I have realised is that the majority of the quality of life comes from what is around you in the small nearness and that we do have a lot of choice and control when it comes to those things.
God has been present to me in these small details and through the everyday kindness of strangers and I have learned how to receive and treasure that grace. I’m not sure I moved slowly enough to see or value it before. I believe more than ever that each life is precious and valuable, that each is made in the image of God and that this shines through if we let it. The small intricate details of love and recognition woven into our communication and interaction has so much power to acknowledge God in each person and honour him in the ways we respect and bless one another, and that this has the power to keep us fully alive and fully human, in the face of so many de-humanising acts on the world scene. I plan to spend some time exploring the ways in which the creativity of the actors and musicians I loved and lost this year brought hope to me and helped me explore my humanity and my own identity, and ponder on how I can carry that legacy and share it myself in 2017.
I wonder what has been good for you in 2016, and if it’s worth spending a few moments to list those things and give thanks for them, as we turn our hearts hopefully towards the coming of a new year which will no doubt have its share of wonder and struggle.