Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Pondering

"Father, as the old year ends and a new begins, forgive us for the failures of the vanished days,and bless us in days that do not die. Keep us from vain regret, and let us face forward in the light of the best that we have learned. Purge our hearts both of shallow self-confidence and of cowardly fears, so that we may know that without thee we can do nothing but that in thee all things are possible; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
             --Walter Russell Bowie

Chaim Potok the great Jewish writer once said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, I am a persistantist.” That seems like pretty good advice for a new year.

The optimists are likely to look at everything through rose-colored glasses. The pessimists are liable to see things so dark and despairing that nobody wants to be around them. Many of the situations we face are somewhere between the happy crowd and the gloom and doom brigade.  

One of the great Biblical texts cautions us not to grow weary in well-doing. The writer could also have said: do not paint the picture always sunny because that is not reality either. The people I admire most are the persistantists. They don’t let anything stop them. What would have happened if Christopher Columbus had not pleaded for eight years with the Queen of Spain to support his adventure. The Church led the fight in saying the world was flat and that Columbus was crazy. Everybody seemed to agree. But Columbus persisted and helped alter the shape of the world.

We all will bring some tough things into this new year. Very few of us are not beset with some kind of a burden or wound that just will not go away. Sometimes it is illness—ours or someone we love. Often it is a personal problem—ours or someone we care deeply about. It could be the heaviness of the world we all live in. Fear seems to lurk around too many corners.

Yet there are a great many courageous people that will not give up. Robert Louis Stevenson was ill for many years. Toward the end of his life his wife came in one morning and said, “I suppose you will tell me again that it is a beautiful day.” Stevenson replied, “Yes, my dear. I refuse to let that row of medicine bottles be the circumference of my horizon.” Hopefully many of us may be fortunate enough to face the new year untroubled. But if we bump into some difficult things that seem to have no answers—what will be our response? 

When we visited England I became intrigued with how the English people dealt with the terrible trauma of the Second World War. German bombs fell on London for 57 consecutive days. Then after the bombing ceased, the planes came back again and again.   Thousands of lives were lost, whole families and communities were destroyed. It seemed like the end of the world.  All the children from the larger cities were sent to live with strangers in the country because of safety. It was a dark and difficult time for the English people. One of the moving forces in those wartime days was Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Over and over he told his people that the secret of England’s success would be embedded in six words: “Never…never…never…never give up.” After the war ended  Churchill gave his last commencement address. He stood before that graduating class used the words that kept his country going. Three times he said:  “Never quit.” And then he sat down.

Who knows what lurks around the corner of this new year?  But if the hard times come, we need not deny them through sunny optimism or drown in a sea of pessimistic despair.  Our challenge is to face whatever comes. We will walk one step at a time. Sometimes we may reach out and grab someone’s hand so we do not stumble. Sometimes we may hold another’s hand so they do not stumble. Let us remember Churchill’s strong challenge. Never give up.
Years ago James Thurber wrote a tribute to his eccentric editor, Harold Ross of The New Yorker.
 Mr. Thurber said of his friend: "He just kept going like a bullet-torn battle flag and nobody captured his colors and nobody silenced his drums." Persistantists find a way through whatever happens. Not a bad way to move into a new year.


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