Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Alternative Perspective on the New Year

Published in the Fiji Times' "OFF THE WALL" – Wednesday 29th December, 2010

With Christmas celebrated in churches, homes and among families, today many people return to work for the short week that marks the end of December and this year. Come Friday evening the three-day haze of work clears for some so the festivities can continue again. For others the three-days of clarity will be enveloped in another haze that will last from Friday night to at least Monday night (3rd January 2011) the New Year’s Day Public Holiday, or perhaps even Tuesday morning.

By the end of this year we will have completed our first year in the second decade of the twenty-first century. According to the United Nations calendar we will have also completed the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism; Bone and Joint Decade; International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World; and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries, Particularly in Africa. The World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence also comes to an end.

Next year sees the conclusion of the International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding - from 12 August 2010 (International Youth Day) to 11 August 2011. The United Nations has also declared it the International Year o Forests; the International Year of Chemistry, (recognized by UNESCO); the International Year for People of African descent and World Veterinary Year.

For sporting enthusiasts it is a Pacific Games year, a 15’s rugby world cup Year (as we are reminded on a particular television commercial at least once an hour), the cricket world cup year, the women’s soccer world cup year, as well as the handball and polocrosse world cups year.

In some countries national elections will be held, in others not. People will mark certain milestones in their lives next year – their first year in school, their last year in school, their first year in tertiary education, or entering the workforce, or entering unemployment. It may be the year of promotion for some, while for others it may be the year of retirement.

Our country will also have its memorable as well as unforgettable moments. The planet grows another year older; another cycle of life begins and ends.

While I’m the sort of person who takes time during their birthday to mark their own personal New Year and reflect their own milestones in life’s journey, and different cultures and religions have their own calendars and therefore New Year days, December 31st and January 1st are another opportunity for the global consciousness to reflect on its common journey.

In Fiji we are familiar with the typical image of New Years Eve: a group of revellers with party hats and noisemakers, the countdown to midnight, ringing in the new year with champagne and perhaps (if they know the words) singing “Auld Lang Syne.” There will be fireworks, bamboo canons, much use of the baby-powder bottle and throwing of water.

However many of us are also familiar with events which flow in a different direction as churches, welcome the coming year in a different way with a Watch Night service.

Methodism founder John Wesley originated Watch Night services in the mid-18th century, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal services. The original services were spontaneous prayer services designed to deepen the spiritual life of Methodists.

The service is loosely constructed with singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, and readings.

There may be preaching or not. Volunteers may take turns continuing quiet prayer in the sanctuary until dawn.

In Methodist tradition, Watch Night was considered a time for recommitment. The unity of the congregation was renewed, the covenant with the world-wide Body of Christ was renewed, and people testified and sang.

I read that Watch Night services have special significance in the African-American community, where they date back to the days of slavery. At the end of the year, owners tallied their property and often sold slaves to pay debts. They did not know after tallying if they would be separated. New Years Eve was often the last night a family of slaves would be together.

Watch Night took on even more significance during the Civil War. When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was to take effect Jan. 1, 1863. Slaves sat up the night before, waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight.

In the Dudley Circuit, services will begin at 10.30pm and last until a little after midnight, with songs and hymns, prayers and preaching. At Dudley Church in Toorak, our young people in the Praise and Worship team will lead in contemporary gospel songs and choruses and the preacher will be the Rev. William Lucas, Divisional Superintendent of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.

As we reflect on the year gone by and the year to come, whether in church, with family and friends or living it up - our focus should be light and hopeful, not dwelling on the past, but acknowledging it and looking to the future with renewed hope and enthusiasm.

I leave this thought from Jiddu Krishnamurti to ponder as we take our final steps through 2010 and our first steps into 2011:

“Freedom and love go together. Love is not a reaction. If I love you because you love me, that is mere trade, a thing to be bought in the market; it is not love. To love is not to ask anything in return, not even to feel that you are giving something- and it is only such love that can know freedom.”

May your week and New Year’s celebration – in whatever form it takes – be blessed with light, love, peace, joy and hope. May the year 2011 be marked by Simplicity, Serenity and Spontaneity.

This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Padre Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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