Every year, on my birthday, I assign myself a spiritual theme for the year. Last year’s was humility. That went just about exactly the way it sounds like it would, and, while I can very clearly see the fruits of that exercise, it also left me feeling pretty broken down. My mother got sick, and died a difficult death. We had financial difficulties. The contractor we hired to renovate our dream house left us in a nearly desperate state, and we are only now finding a replacement for him. I had to have surgery. My cousin, just a few years older than me, was diagnosed with ALS. And that’s just the highlights. Every little thing that could go wrong, did go wrong. Broken appliances, cars in ditches so often the local tow truck driver knows my name. It was brutal. Everything in my life changed. I went back to work full time, and my kids went from being home-schooled to public schooled, and I was on the receiving end of some harsh judgements for my choices, past and present. There were a million little humiliations. There were times I thought I was truly in the throes of a nervous breakdown. There have been few nights for the last year that I haven’t woken in the middle of the night in a panic.
This year, as I pondered and prayed about what I needed in the coming year, the theme my tired soul kept drawing towards was goodness. What is it? What does goodness mean? In my faith tradition truth, beauty and goodness are considered “transcendents.” They are things that point beyond themselves, and towards their creator. They draw our souls upwards and invoke in us a reaction we can’t put into words, but we know it when we feel it. Something about my year of humility has finely tuned my senses, and, while I don’t know how to describe goodness, or all of the nuances of what it is, I can see it in breathtaking colour. I can see it when I work with the elderly, and when I work with my children. I can see it in families, and communities, particularly this community, which helped me pick up the pieces of my broken self when I was a stranger. I resolved that I would keep track of these moments, and bought myself a journal.
There is a type of prayer in my faith, called the Examen, where you look back over the details of your day, and look for the moments of light, and the moments of dark. The moments where you can see the beauty of God working in your life, and the moments where you clearly see the ways in which you have fallen short. The ways in which things went well, and the ways in which you are struggling. The result is not, as it might sound, like some sort of spiritual guilt trip, in which you dutifully flagellate yourself for failing, but a calm, quiet, realistic acknowledgement of the true state of things. The result of this is that the moments of light set against the background of the darkness, shine with all the tranquil beauty of the stars. This prayer is the bedrock of my Year of Goodness. I am hoping that the more I acquaint myself with goodness in all its forms, the better my soul will embrace it.