By Fr. Charles Baxter
As the new year’s progress brings us to the end of the Nativity and Theophany Holy Days, it’s a good time to take a deep breath and take stock in that time in between. The deocrations are taken down and packed away, the last of the holiday visitors are sent on their way, the next term begins at school or university and there’s a long chilly spell from now until those crocuses and daffodils start to spring up. How does this time help the matters of the the soul? Now that our lives should have some more space, more time and less intensity, compared to six weeks ago, it’s a good time to start some good habits and helpful patterns for the year ahead and beyond.
We don’t normally feel the waves from a “big splash” Holy Day like Nativity now. The preparation and beginning of Great Lent is still a few more weeks away. Lacking these larger fixed points to navigate, it’s an easy time for the soul to become distracted by worldly things and more commitments of time and effort. This is a good time to “take stock” not only from what comes up during the yearly cycle of the church, but to take one of these quiet cold winter nights to pray and truly renew a connection to God.
We will celebrate The Feast Day of The Meeting of Our Lord in February. This occasion is a great opportunity for the soul to pause and to ponder. It’s one of the twelve “major” feast days in the life of the church. It has, however, none of the extra “baggage” that filled up the time around the last two Holy Days.
How are you doing with your own patience? Do you find that gauzy sort of sentimental sheen (often felt after watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”) is now starting to wear a bit think by February? Consider the Righteous Simeon. This is a man whom Saint Luke calls “just and devout” and “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Our own issues with patience: the short tempers, overcrowded schedules, over-programmed families and the like become less urgent and burning when we consider and pray about a man like Simeon. Are these things that cause us to fall into anger really as important as our own immortal soul?
So how does one get a little more “just and devout” and a bit less injured by a sinful lack of patience? This is a good time to “check in” with Confession, now that the big holiday rush is over with. You can find some time now to truly talk with your pastor about your spiritual needs and not just go through the motions of a “good confession.”
Now that the fasting period before Nativity has come and gone, and the beginning of Lent is still a month or more away, this is a time to begin establishing good fasting habits. Perhaps you did not observe the Nativity fast very with as much care and dilligence as your conscience told you. A perfect spot to do this is the next time you’re at the grocery store, or ordering a meal at a restaurant. Choose something “fast worthy” even if it’s on a Tuesday. Begin to partake of your meals with prayers and thanks. Then take enough to satisfiy your body’s needs, but not to indulge our perceived need to be gluttonous.
We prepare our soul to withstand the assaults of the adversary by training such as this. It’s not a “New Year’s resolution” to be made lightly or casually, but one that can be made with prayer and good intentions. Just as the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon, so will it be for us when we approach these matters of the soul with his same patience and care.