In Pursuit of the Spirit: A New Year’s Practice


I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. Nope, never mind, that’s a lie. I love New Year’s resolutions. I relish the opportunity to dream about beginning new habits that will eventually shape me into a new, improved version of myself. I savor the visions of an organized life, a fit body, a spiritually-transcendent frame of mind. What I hate is that dreams, resolutions, and visions require work to become reality. And with one exception, I have yet to fulfill any resolution made on the eve of a new year.

I like traditional spiritual disciplines: centering prayer, lectio divina, fasting, contemplative listening, but I also love looking for, and creating, new spiritual practices that help us to see and hear God more clearly or in new ways. The traditional spiritual discipline that corresponds with New Year’s resolutions is creating a Rule of Life. Rules of Life are created by choosing a set of spiritual practices that you want to commit to doing for this period in your life. They are a way of being intentional about our spiritual lives and they provide a structure to help us practice and live into who God is calling us to be. I’ve written Rules of Life at various times in my life and I find the process rewarding, but at this juncture in my life, they feel too much like resolutions—too much like empty promises and grand visions that I won’t actually ever live into. Instead, I’m considering creating a vision board for this new year that centers around a particular phrase. Choosing particular words for the year has become a popular practice recently, as have vision boards, and this year they feel like the right balance of hope/vision/promise and reality/life.

As of January 1st, I am the new acting Associate Pastor at a local congregational church, and I’ll be moving into a new office at the church at the end of the month. It’s a position I’m excited about, but it also represents a big change for me and my family as I transition from being a stay-at-home mom and PhD student to a working-outside-of-the-home mom. I think we’re all ready for this change, but it also brings with it new challenges and concerns about time management and finding a way to balance home and work. A few weeks ago a book I was listening to quoted a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Second Coming: “Things fall apart; The centre cannot hold.” The reverse of this quote (the center will hold) has captured my imagination ever since. I don’t quite know what it is about this phrase that so appeals to me, but it continues to pop into my mind at random times and I find myself wondering what it means for me, what it might mean in my life at this time.

As I consider what will go in my new office, I’m thinking about including a bulletin board with this phrase at the center. Rather than filling it with images and words like a traditional vision board, I think I’m going to leave it empty so I can add to it over the course of the year. I want to see if living into this phrase over the course of the year will help me see God in any new places or in new ways. And so this year, rather than writing resolutions or crafting a rule of life, I think I’m going to start with an empty bulletin board and a phrase I want to live into and see what happens.

Blog-HeadShot-300x300Sarah Walker Cleaveland is a spiritual director, preacher, teacher, retreat leader, and writer. After graduating from Hobart & William Smith Colleges with a degree in religious studies, she spent two years working in Christian Education at a Presbyterian Church and a Presbyterian Retreat Center. She earned her M.Div. at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, married her husband Adam, then earned a Masters of Theology from Princeton Seminary. Adam serves as Associate Pastor at Winnetka Presbyterian Church in a suburb north of Chicago. Sarah is currently chasing their two and a half year old son Caleb and developing her spiritual direction practice.

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