In the Beginning
What would you do if you could go back to the beginning?
Every year, during the first week of January, we hear endless stories and discussions of New Year’s resolutions. Attempting, to start anew, to begin again.
In John’s Gospel, the opening lines are all about the new beginning. The new start, which declares:
“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” This is the beginning of God’s relationship with humankind centered in the word.
Matthew writes of a different kind of beginning for the family of Mary and Joseph and Jesus. They flee into the desert in Egypt.
In preparing for this week’s worship I came across an essay written by Dan Clendenin (Clendenin writes a website called: Journey with Jesus) entitled, Voices from the Desert: New Year’s Resolutions from our Monastic Mothers and Fathers. I found the paraphrased resolutions, based on ancient writings, fascinating and felt that they are truly a way for us to go back to the beginning – our beginning.
Some background: the monastic mothers and fathers fled the early church because of the corruption of church and society and sought Christ in the solitude of the Egyptian desert. The fled the world much like Mary and Joseph fled, the early religion ordered people flee to get away from the world. Mary and Joseph and Jesus fled to save their life.
But their wisdom and insight into God’s relationship with humankind was extraordinary. Clendenin found 12 possible New Year’s Resolutions from the desert mothers and fathers:
- Never stop starting over.
- Live intentionally not aimlessly
- Never ever despair, no matter what.
- Pray simply, not stupidly.
- Renounce self-justification.
- Stop judging others.
- Stay put.
- Celebrate theological modesty.
- Acknowledge my brokenness.
- Be ruthlessly realistic
- Always think good of everyone.
To highlight a few:
Think about the implications of the thought “never stop starting over.” It is a theological truth that in Christ we have endless new beginnings. The desert mothers and fathers lived each day as a new beginning in relationship to God. What if we lived each day in treating life itself as being brand new? What if we always picked ourselves up off the floor when experiencing some sort of defeat and started over.
St. Mark the Ascetic is the author of the next: “live intentionally, not aimlessly.” The original quote reads: “Think and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” When I focus my day by directing what I do and say to and for God, things change. My aimlessness becomes life with intention.
John the Dwarf authored the words that are summarized by “renounce all self-justification.” John the Dwarf was best known for his obedience. His original quote reads: “We have put aside the easy burden, which is self-accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification.” How many times do we stop listening, stop paying attention, in order to engage in the practice of self-justification. We don’t listen, we only attempt to make it clear that what we did was right, usually at the expense of others.
“Acknowledging our brokenness” is perhaps the greatest of spiritual truths. It means that we do not stand in judgment over others, but only stand in our mutual humanity. When we understand that we are all in the need of healing and wholeness we share with each other the fact that we all need God’s love and grace.
In the 4th century, Evagrios the Solitary wrote: “Show the greatest gentleness toward all people.” Clendenin summarizes this quotation with these words “always think good of everyone.”
These words, from a group of folks who fled the corruption of another age of church and society and went to live in the desert to be closer to God, are their resolutions that impact the new beginnings that are ours in Christ.