It’s been a hell of a year. Lots of people are saying that today on social media.
For many of us, it’s been a year of anger and tears and broken dreams and too much violence, too much hate. Overflowing with questions. Questions like “Why?” “What are we gonna do about this?” And to get all Biblical: “How long o Lord, how long?”
Going into 2017, practically everyone I know is filled with fear and sadness and teetering on the edge of despair.
And the idea of traditional New Year’s eve partying sounds…a little ridiculous. Like partying on the Titanic.
Maybe we need something else tonight.
Thirty some years ago, my husband Gary and I were hosting a New Year’s Eve party at our little one bedroom apartment in the Wrigleyville neighborhood of Chicago. I think, for some reason, we’d billed it as a sleepover, so many of the 20somethings in attendance were in their jammies. Our friends at the time were mostly people like us, on the lamb from the conservative Christian families we’d grown up in, trying to make sense of the world for ourselves, trying to figure out if we believed in God at all and if so, what sort of God did we believe in. We were, many of us, aspiring songwriters, painters, actors, dancers, social justice activists. There was an architect among us, just starting his first real job at a big Chicago firm, who, as I remember it, seemed to spend most of his days at work trying to measure square footage.
The music was loud, there was frenetic dancing and drinking, the kind you might imagine from those who’d recently been released from jail.
But then something happened. It was almost midnight and Gary stood up and said, “What if everybody said one word that summarizes the past year for you...”
Somehow, without discussion, a circle formed and we went around and each said a word and after each person said their word - no explanation, just a word - we each toasted their word, held it up with them, held it like a beautiful little gem of truth. And then we went around the circle again, this time each saying a word that epitomized our hope/goal for the year ahead. Again, one word, nothing more, and each word was repeated, savored for a moment by the group and toasted.
It was basically a spiritual drinking game.
We’ve done this ritual every New Year’s eve ever since. With probably a bit less alcohol as the years have gone by. Often with many of these same people, and often with new friends, and with strangers who happened to wander into our circle for a few moments in time. When our children came along they were included (with sparkling grape juice for the toasting part) and when people couldn’t join us, who wanted to, they phoned their words in, or emailed them… lately they’ve been texting them.
I’m not sure Gary knew what he was doing that night so many years ago when he invited us to take a moment away from the craziness and the wild numbing celebration to tell the truth to each other. I’m sure he had no idea what he was starting.
But stopping for just a few minutes and sharing this simple ritual on New Year’s Eve has been powerful for us, each year, it's like finding ourselves barefoot in front of a burning bush. Naming the word that summarizes the year gone by, a word that captures its heartbreak or its blessing or its confusing mix of both, that’s been grace. Then naming the hope, the goal, the wish, which has become a sort of commitment, a stake in the ground, that too…sacred. And hearing each others words - that's been nothing less than holy communion.
And it has always, no matter what kind of year we had or were walking into, helped hold back a little of the despair, a little of the fear. Because we were holding on to truth and hope…together.
We will be doing it again tonight.
And if you think you might find it helpful to try it yourself, whoever you’re with this New Year’s Eve, please do.
And if you don’t have anyone to be with tonight and don’t want to feel so alone, feel free to share your one true word for 2016 and your word of hope for 2017 in the comments section below.
I promise to read each one and hold onto those holy words with you.
And as we head into 2017, thank you all for reading this blog and being a part of my life through the magic of the internet. Peace and blessings to all of you, and to this whole wide aching world.
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