In Germany, (or at least the Roman Catholic portions of the country we usually visit), new year’s eve is referred to simply as “Silvester,” meaning the feast day of Saint Silvester. Silvester was a 4th century pope, whose claim to fame was being the first pope after Constantine converted. This meant he really got to lead in a “new day” for the early church, freed from the fear of persecution. Of course, that new day has lots of ironies to it now – many wonder whether the church wouldn’t have been more faithful to Jesus had it never had any official status – but it must have seemed like a saving work of God at the time.
In our family, we’re all too aware of the things that have not changed in 2006: the war still rages, and now the U.S. casualties are at 3000; global warming news is bad and getting worse; our own city has seen way too much violence in the last year. But there are hints, perhaps, of a new day. More and more opponents of the war within our government and even within the Pentagon are willing to speak out. The global warming news is now really news, instead of just a fringe environmental story consigned to the back pages or the Sierra Club magazine. The White House has to contend with new congressional leadership that will not rubber stamp the GOP party line. And in our own part of Minneapolis, residents have gathered to talk about how we can be in solidarity with the North side, instead of simply avoiding it. Are these things new days, or the events future historians will see as bitter ironies? We cannot know.
In Germany, the standard greeting for today is translated, more or less, “good slide (or even, good scootch) into the new year”. I love that because it recognizes how quietly and unremarkably this number can simply change over, how random something like the Gregorian calendar is. Why now? Why December 31? Why not spring equinox or summer solstice? But, of course, technically speaking, what happens as we “slide” into the new year is the same thing that happens all year long – we turn around, one more time, from day to night to day. We finish another set of 365 turns, a revolution around the sun. No big deal. But a wondrous miracle each time, full of the myteries of what time will bring.
So, friends, happy slide!! (On a sled, perhaps, if you’re enjoying our long-awaited snow in Minneapolis). And for the New Year, good revolution!
And, by the way, you won’t hear from me in the next week or so. I’m off to Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara, where I’ll write, pray, and work with other writers who serve the church. More about that when I return.