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What Kind of Year Means the Most?

What kind of year means the most?

The years of our lives come in more flavors than any single year can possibly encompass. There are, in fact, a good many kinds of years by which we shape our work, our family life, our very selves. To fail to distinguish one kind of year from another is to risk skewing the way we look at life. The way we define our years determines what we think our lives are meant to be about and how we will live because of it. There are fiscal years and school years, planting periods and harvesting periods, calendar years and business years. There are years to mark every stage of life–childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, and old age–and all of those periods are unlike the periods before it. The question is, what kind of year means the most to us spiritually?

I began writing this on New Year's Day, the first day of the span of time it will take for the earth to revolve around the sun again. Unlike the civic year, the Christian year does not begin on January 1. The church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which normally begins in late November.
The truth is that, as Christians, January 1 isn't really our "new year" at all. It is not the beginning of the "new year" of our soul's search for wholeness. Instead, January 1 is simply the day that makes it possible for the secular world to mark centuries, to keep track of its earthly ways, to coordinate itself with the ways of the rest of the world, to begin again its cycle of civic events.

The Christian year and the civic year go wafting by each other, often unaware, sometimes completely distinct in their measures of value and their indications of what is really important in life and what is not. To be a Christian is to see the deep-down difference between the two. And to celebrate that.

The civic new year is clearly only one of many "years" we all live, for one reason or another, with one emphasis or another, every year of our lives. Depending on who we are and what we do, we can live fiscal years and family years, school years and retirement years, apprentice years and professional years, one after another or even simultaneously, as our lives go by. All of them, though different, say something to us about what's determining in life, what's formative in life, what's meaningful to us in the here and now of life.

The civic new year is a calendrical device designed to regulate the daily affairs of a people. It enables people count time together––three weeks til we leave for the next trip, for instance; or to plot future engagements, such as the date on which we will close the deal on the new house, to mark the weekend of our next meeting, or to calculate the time when we can all expect snow again. The civic new year as we know it is a purely solar event, a chart of the planet's journey around the sun. But it is not, in the most private and personal of ways, the story of the rest of us, the narrative of our spiritual lives. That story begins and ends and begins again annually with the journey of the soul through the liturgical year.

                   ––from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, by Joan Chittister