Welcome to the New Year!
I closed out the old year on the couch and rode into the new year on this same steed due to a persistent sinus infection and recurrent bronchitis. Weee—just in time for the Dr Who marathon on BBC and every single bowl game known to college fanatics. I’m looking forward to this New Year of 2020, and its extra day in February. Yep, it’s a Leap Year, my bunny friends!
Leading up to the new year, I watched the Ring of Fire annular eclipse, which was only seen live in Asia and the Middle East, but it was live streamed by http://www.slooh.com. We’ll have other partial and full lunar eclipses in the years to come, but the next Great Eclipse fully visible across the entire USA won’t be until April 8, 2024. Save the date. Little Rock will be in the path of centrality, as will Hot Springs. Eclipse chasers will book up all the state parks and hotel rooms a year in advance. When I went to Kentucky in 2017, I stayed an hour away from the belt of totality and drove to a state park to see the eclipse. The people in the city were stuck in a five hour traffic jam attempting to leave town. I went to see a pack of wild buffalo in a park.
I believe there’s magic and mystery in the natural world, which God created with joy and delight. The weight of the old year, with its troubles, its unfulfilled promises, and its losses, can drag us down along with the darkening days. The epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by George Gordon, Lord Byron, sums up the old year, which thankfully we’ve left behind:
He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow.
He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
Must look down on the hate of those below. 400
Though high above the sun of glory glow,
And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits led. (XLV)
WHAT WILL THE NEW YEAR BRING?
“We just don’t know,” is a phrase my seminary professors were fond of repeating. I’d abbreviate this in my notes as WJDK, for yet another mystery unsolved because we don’t have records or artifacts from those times. We are a people who want certainty in our lives, however, so we’ll clutch at straws or believe people who speak with authority, even if they don’t know what they’re talking about. Many a vial of snake oil was sold by unscrupulous salespeople back in the day, as well as in today’s wellness market.
From ancient times, prophets and priests have foretold the future. Some cast lots, others sacrificed animals, and others went into sacred trances.
CEROMANCY (DIVINATION USING MELTED WAX)
Molybdomancy is a divination technique using molten metal and water. A safer method is to use melted wax (ceromancy), which avoids toxic fumes. Ancient societies didn’t know this, but we do, so don’t use tin! Keep your brain cells, for we need all of the ones we can muster to keep track of, especially since some of ours have a tendency to wander off to Pluto.
BIBLIOMANCY (DIVINATION USING BOOKS)
John Wesley was famous for letting the Holy Spirit direct his path for the day. He’d open his Bible, point to a verse, and that would be his marching orders for the day. Others have tied books to the ceiling with string and interpreted their movements. Of course, two schools of interpretation rule in this form: literal and metaphorical, just as in biblical preaching.
TYROMANCY (DIVINATION USING CHEESE)
Some say the shapes of the holes in the cheeses were thought to hold meaning—a heart shape could indicate love, and certain holes could be read as initials. Young women would write the names of unmarried men on bits of cheese and note the first one to grow mold. They hoped it foretold his growing romantic interest in them. The Greek diviner Artemidorus didn’t think cheese divination was all that reliable, preferring dream interpretations instead.
Perhaps Byron would find one of these cheese maidens suitable for his autobiographical hero Childe Harold. As we read this verse, may a ray of God’s love enter your hearts and flow out into the world beyond.
He who hath loved not, here would learn that lore,
And make his heart a spirit; he who knows 960
That tender mystery, will love the more,
For this is Love’s recess, where vain men’s woes,
And the world’s waste, have driven him far from those,
For ’tis his nature to advance or die;
He stands not still, but or decays, or grows
Into a boundless blessing, which may vie
With the immortal lights, in its eternity! (CIII)
As the New Year dawns, l look once again at Wesley’s classic definitions of Christian Perfection, sin, and love. They will help us get through the coming months, both within the church and in the political realm. I’m of the opinion the forces pulling people apart are driven by mass television media news outlets, who make money by refining and coalescing their demographic bases. Since these outlets repeat the news stories of the day constantly, listening becomes a form of brainwashing or mass indoctrination. The Pew Research Center survey shows over half of adult Americans get their news from television. Another 38% get news online, while while radio (25%) and print newspapers (20%) pull up the rear.
None of them meet the test for Christian Perfection, and I notice our Christian politicians are not keeping God as their first loyalty, but have sold out to the false gods of power and influence. In the New Year, we the people have to decide if our values are lined up with loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is the question Wesley asked at the Conference of clergy and preachers in the year 1759:
QUESTION. What is Christian perfection?
“ANSWER. The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions, are governed by pure love.
Q. But how can a liableness to mistake consist with perfect love? Is not a person who is perfected in love every moment under its influence? And can any mistake flow from pure love?
“A. I answer, (1.) Many mistakes may consist with pure love; (2.) Some may accidentally flow from it: I mean, love itself may incline us to mistake. The pure love of our neighbour, springing from the love of God, thinketh no evil, believeth and hopeth all things. Now, this very temper, unsuspicious, ready to believe and hope the best of all men, may occasion our thinking some men better than they really are. Here then is a manifest mistake, accidentally flowing from pure love.
Again Byron writes,
But when the rising moon begins to climb
Its topmost arch, and gently pauses there;
When the stars twinkle through the loops of time,
And the low night-breeze waves along the air,
The garland-forest, which the grey walls wear,
Like laurels on the bald first Caesar’s head;
When the light shines serene, but doth not glare,
Then in this magic circle raise the dead:
Heroes have trod this spot—’tis on their dust ye tread. (CXLIV.)
Some of us will need to find a quiet place in the days and weeks to come, for momentous times await us. A sea change is on the horizon. Those of us who aren’t active clergy are now in prayer for the church we love. If “things fall apart” in the spring and the center doesn’t hold, like a phoenix the church will rise anew from the ashes. November is a distant time, and much can happen before then.
Unique New Year’s Traditions
Some New Year’s traditions I find unique and worth sharing are those from Bolivia and France, since they involve food. In Bolivia coins are baked into sweets and whoever finds the coins has good luck for the next year. In New Orleans, when Mardi Gras rolls around, a plastic baby Jesus gets hidden inside the King Cake. Whoever gets that slice, brings the next cake to the party.
The French like to keep things simple and delicious. Every new year they consume a stack of pancakes. Make mine with blueberries, please.
The Japanese like to play a New Year’s game called Hanetsuki, which resembles badminton, played without a net. The only goal is to keep the Hane in the air as long as possible, for the loser gets his or her face marked with ink. According to history, the longer the Hane remained in the air, the greater the amount of protection received for the coming year.
The ancient Japanese believed that diseases could be acquired from mosquitoes, which were eaten by dragonflies. The shuttlecocks in the game Hanetsuki represent dragonflies. Hanetsuki is often played during the New Year to ward off mosquitoes, hoping that the Japanese children would not get bitten.
Hanetsuki originally served as a rite during exorcisms but it became a game for girls during the Muromachi Period (1333-1568). The Hagoita (racket) were also believed to have the ability to ward off evil spirits during the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period) during the mid 15th century to the early parts of the 17th century.
Now that we’ve covered evil spirits, mosquitoes, pancakes, church splits, moldy cheese, Christian perfection, and the next American total eclipse; no matter what happens in 2020, I hope each of you finds more love of God in your heart and spreads that love out into the world every day.
More bunny love to every bunny,
Future Eclipse dates:
Ring of Fire Eclipse:
John Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection:
Pew Survey on News:
George Gordon, Lord Byron, XLV, CIII, —Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage — Canto III
George Gordon, Lord Byron, Canto, CXLIV
Finnish Tin Casting at New Year’s:
Historic Divination Methods:
10 Historical Divination Methods for Predicting the Future | Mental Floss
Japanese New Year Game