Disappointed or Designer Immigrants
Dear old and new friends,
My first letter-reflection to you for 2014 is on January 1st. On this day in 1892, Ellis Island opened as an immigrant reception station for the United States. Let this 122nd anniversary remind us that we are all descendants of immigrants. We imitated them on December 31st as we set with sparkling fireworks from the old world of 2013 for the bright new world of 2014, so filled with promise and dreams.
But the next morning when opening our eyes on January 1st we discovered to our disappointment the new world looked exactly like the old one! Our bedroom was the same and our world was just as full of brutal wars, fighting, homeless people, famine, hatred, and racial, religious and sexual discrimination as the old one!
Wait a moment, you say! It’s romantically naive to think beginning a New Year is entering a new world! Let’s be realistic—other than the new date of 2014 on calendars there’s nothing new about us or anything else.
You’re correct, but shouldn’t a truly new year be fresh and we be new and different? The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (500 B.C. or B.C.E) taught that everything was ever-new and changing. Plato twice quoted this theory in his writings. Heraclitus maintained that the world—creation—was constantly changing and summed up this reality in his phrase, “You can’t step into the same river twice!” Twenty-five thousand years later, science confirms that Heraclitus was right. For beneath the unchanging exterior world there is a sub-atomic world where atoms are always in constant flux (we know this intellectually but do not experience it). This newness includes you and me, all of us, and astonishingly—God.
The Jewish prophet Isaiah, who lived about the same time as Heraclitus, along with the author of the Book of Revelation, quote God as saying, “See, I make all things new!” All things! That would include us—if we choose to be new! To choose, however, requires repeatedly redesigning yourself anew in imitation of the on-going originality of God. It means seeing your surroundings with new eyes, freshening up your vocabulary with new idioms, and that truly thorny task of redesigning your prayers so they are more personally original! But why change them when I know them by heart? Because the Mysterious Holy One to whom you pray is hourly, minute by minute, ever new and changing.
To paraphrase Heraclitus, “You can’t step into the same year twice!” So begin this New Year joyously as an immigrant striving to find beneath your and the earth’s skin the wonder of Eden’s fresh newness. Indispensable for living in a new world is loving those you’ve loved for years differently, including God, now with the passion of a young lover newly fallen in love.