As we flip the calendar from the year that has been to another now beginning, I cannot help but recall just how much that act was anticipated a year ago. Most of us were turning from 2020 to 2021 with great anticipation: “2021 can’t come fast enough” and “good riddance to 2020.” And I confess that it did feel hopeful — that somehow the simple act of counting up one year was genuinely infused with a certain optimistic spirit that things in the new year would get better. Well, here we are now at another turn of the calendar to another new year; I sense more caution now, not only in myself, but in many. The events of 2021 have not let up: not only in terms of the 3rd and 4th waves of the pandemic, but more significantly in the deepening awareness of the intensifying effects of climate change in fire and flood, and still more significantly in the deepening awareness of the extent of the damage done to the First Peoples, brought forth in new ways to the national consciousness by the visibility of the unmarked graves, made clear by ground-penetrating radar. 2021 has been marked by lament, by renewed soul-searching, by new awareness of misuse of power, and by new aware- ness of our collective vulnerabilities. As we enter 2022 I sense a more measured spirit, a day-by-day spirit, focused more closely on what is near at hand, on what must be done in the here and now.
In October the Cathedral Coffee Group gathered by Zoom for a conversation around the invitation from Primate Linda Nicholls to the whole church to consider how we have been “Surprised by the Spirit” through this time, and to identify some Sparks that signal where the Spirit of God might be at work among us. One of the notes that struck me and that has stuck with me from that session was that the group identified one particular learning as “scaling down and looking more closely for faith and friendship that are right in front of us, always.”
Perhaps ‘scaling down’ is something that simply begins to occur quite naturally in response to events that are in so many ways overwhelming, occurring on a huge scale. But perhaps also to be deliberate about scaling down is simultaneously to open up deeper and more detailed forms of friendship and faith — think of the way a macro lens on a camera serves a photographer’s attention toward detail that would otherwise not be captured, maybe not even noticed; to get the shot requires that the camera be held more steadily, the photo framed carefully, slowly, patiently, and the shutter released gently.
I take great encouragement from that particular Spark. I’m encouraged by it because it does not look to any particular method or formula or program or project in order to ‘be the church.’ Rather, it turns the lens toward the detail of a living faith and friendship. As with photography, seeing that detail will require care and patience, but as that detail emerges, faith and friendship deepens, and what is beautiful about faith and friendship — and faithful friendships — emerges from caring for one another in the details.
Such detail will ‘always’ be there to be found. And it is this ‘always’ of faith and friendship that really strikes me. Because ‘always’ is a word that transcends the pas- sage of time, and yet is part of all times. ‘Always’ doesn’t really concern itself with the turn of a calendar from this year to that. ‘Always’ is connected to every moment. ‘Always’ is dynamic — connected to what is both everlasting and ongoing.
This is biblical time. In Greek terms it is the difference between clock time (chronos) and timeliness (kairos). In clock time we turn the calendar, but simply turning a calendar is no reason for optimism. Things don’t just ‘get better’. As we enter the season of Epiphany we are reminded of the light of Christ shining into all the world — and not only that, but shining from within the world by virtue of the Incarnation: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” ( John 1:9). This enables us to see by faith in the midst of clock time into what is always to be found in the scaling down, as we are led by the Spirit of God in ways that deepen us in faith and friendship with God and others. As the psalmist reminds us, it is by God’s light that we see light (Psalm 36:9) and it is by seeing light that we are pointed toward the “fullness of time” in which God “gathers up” all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). That is always happening because that is the work of God, no matter what time our clocks and calendars read.