As of this writing, we are a little over a week into 2014. The New Year comes like a blanket of fresh snow. Collecting everything under its crisp, white weight. Everyone is full of hope and expectation; the new year offers a chance to reset our gaze towards an ideal you, the you that sounds wonderfully successful and productive.
This kind of reset is important. New goals and aspirations are valueable. Our days can begin to stack up on us. If we are not careful, the ins and outs of life can dull us to progress or renewal. Lost under the pressures of the grind, we easily lose sense of the story we find ourselves in. A new calendar awards a chance to engage our purpose and glance at the big picture. This kind of activity is crucial to help focus us and to help us take stock of the narrative we inhabit. As I have written before, the Christian narrative calls for a particular way of life.
While the new year offers us a chance to take stock of our identity, modify problem areas, and chart a course for improvement, we must be careful. We must remain open to surprise and interruption.
This week was the first Sunday of Epiphany. The Epistle text was Acts 10. The story of the mission to the Gentiles. It is a weird story that begins with Peter in asleep. During his slumber, Peter has a vivid dream. In the vision, Peter is witness to a large sheet lowered from Heaven. In the sheet are four legged animals that Peter has abstained from all his life. Then the Lord commands him to kill and eat the animals.
“Surely, not Lord,” Peter returns. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
The next day, Peter traveled to Caesarea and went to the house of Cornelius. His home was filled with expectant people. The Good News had proceeded Peter’s arrival and the household could not wait to hear from him. But here is the thing. Cornelius and his whole household were Gentiles. So Peter walks into the room and it struck him. He remembered the vision as he looked at expectant strangers. God was doing a new thing. Though the law stated these Gentiles were unclean, God was moving Peter toward a new way of life.
What follows is a huge break for Christian faith. These people, who were once cut off, were welcomed into the family of God. The Holy Spirit rushed through Cornelius’ house and surprised everyone with new creation. Peter made himself interruptible by the living God and it changed everything.
Miroslav Volf says, “The Christian difference is therefore not something new into the old from the outside, but a bursting out of the new precisely within the proper space of the old.”
God’s news creation can be surprising because it is not the future we might expect. For us the future is the expected course that follows the chain of events from moment to moment. This is what goal setting is based on. We can chart the future if we focus on the variables and our talents. Our vision and goals can help us progress to the next place, but they can also take us off track because we might miss the unexpected surprise. The bursting forth of God’s new creation.
Now, this does not mean I am against setting goals and resolutions. I think it is crucial to order one’s life. A disciplined way of life is crucial to stability and growth. I just hope the way you order your life allows to attend to the interruption.
This kind of attention leaves room for friends and loved ones to call us out of our tasks. It pays attention to the goings on in other people’s lives, and is open to times of reflection and silence. More than anything, an attentiveness to surprise is grounded in an openness. A humility that allows your best laid plans to be held loosely.
This year might be the year where you finally breakthrough. A year where your resolutions become accomplishment. I hope it is a year of productivity, but I hope you will also be open to interruption. I hope there is enough room in the plans you make and the relationships you keep for surprise.