Three, two, one… Happy New Year! New Year’s Eve always brings to mind evenings with my cousins when I was growing up. The adults dressed up and went out. We kids ate pizza, played board games and stayed in with Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve. As the New Year drew closer we ran through the house checking all of the clocks so that we would know the exact time of midnight. So many clocks with so many differences, “What time is it? What time? Is now the time?”
The New Year is a great opportunity to take stock of what time it is in our lives. We all go through seasons. That is a normal part of life. The wisdom text of Ecclesiastes reminds us of those seasons.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NRS)
One of the more puzzling lines for me is, “a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” Neither of those practices are part of my everyday life. In the agricultural society of ancient Israel, throwing away stones was part of preparing the fields. Israel has fertile land, but is also very rocky. While preparing the fields a farmer would throw stones out of the plowed land to make way for the coming planting season. The fewer rocks in the field, the more productive the soil.
It is far too easy to hold onto stones that do not serve us well, making us less content: grief, guilt, and anger, to name a few. These are all valid feelings and each has a season, but when is it time to cast them away?
What about, “a time to gather stones together?” In ancient Israel when people made a covenant, or wanted to remember a time and place in which God’s presence was made known, they gathered stones into a small stack. This served as a reminder of what God had done in that place and the covenant that was made.
In a way, throwing away stones and gathering stones together are much like our New Year’s resolutions. It’s letting go of something that does not serve us well and marking a promise for a new tomorrow. Is now the time? What do you want to do differently in your life? How can you remind yourself and keep that promise? How can you invite God into a fresh start in a new year? As you enter the New Year, give over to God the stones that weigh you down and celebrate with joy the new year filled with new possiblities.
Holy God, Thank you for the way you make all things new. You are the God of wonder and possibilities. Renew us in this New Year that we better reflect the image of you that you call us to be. Amen.
Photo: Bar Harbor Altar by Lorna Bradley