The dawn of a new year fills people with renewed hope for themselves, their families, friends and faith communities. Today is also time to start keeping New Year’s resolutions to become thinner, wiser, more patient, less angry and an overall better person. This week’s clergy discuss how to make good on those promises by following traditional religious beliefs.
The Rev. Mark Genszler
St. Francis Episcopal Church, North Bellmore
Is a life of faith related to what we call happiness — or prosperity, for that matter? If we take a “happy new year” to mean a deep contentment or a helpful, existential place in the world, then a life of faith, hope, charity and commitment can contribute to this immensely. Living amid the plague and its social chaos in 14th century England, Anglican mystic Dame Julian of Norwich famously wrote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” To profess that all shall be well amid suffering is not to deny the pain of others, nor is it an expression of the common but unhelpful phrase, “God is in control.” Neither is it a pathway to lasting contentment. If our God is one of control, then what of the hurricane that destroys the orphanage? More importantly, if we deny the pain of others we miss not only a key paradox expressed in Christianity — God is most present and apparent in suffering, and transforms it — we also miss walking on a path to true happiness available every day of our lives. The Hebrew prophet Micah tells us: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) The path to happiness begins with humility, and kindness, and justice. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution list?
Rabbi Andy Gordon
Temple Sinai of Roslyn
Jewish tradition teaches that happiness is most often achieved when we change our outlook and appreciate the blessings in our lives. In the Talmud, we learn of a man named Nachum Ish Gamzu who was considered to be the happiest person in his generation. Nachum suffered the horrible tragedy of living his days without the use of his legs or arms, an experience that would lead most of us toward depression and self-doubt. Yet, whenever something bad happened, Nachum would reply, “This too happened for a good reason.” It was his attitude that made him the happiest person in the world. He constantly appreciated all of the gifts he possessed and never focused on the negative. In addition, Jewish tradition also teaches that happiness is achieved by being part of a spiritual community. In Psalm 106:3 we learn: “Happy are those who act justly, who do right at all times.” Also, Proverbs 3:13 clarifies the importance of wisdom and the happiness that is achieved through study. These Jewish texts deliver a resounding message, that happiness is attained through engagement with others: through learning, prayerful experiences and acts of kindness. As the calendar turns from 2016 to 2017, may all of us appreciate the many blessings that are a part of our lives. May we search out moments of connection with our own faith communities and with the broader world that surrounds us.
I.J. Singh of Bellmore
Author of five collections of essays on his journey as a Sikh in America
Once again, a new year approaches, like a bead on a rosary that keeps going around in an endless circle; it ends only when life does. Over 500 years ago, Guru Nanak, the founder of my faith, Sikhism, coined an alphanumeric (a combination of both alphabetic and numeric characters), Ik Onkar, for the Infinite Creator that is common to us all. (“Ik” stands for the number one, while Onkar is a word rooted in Sanskrit that speaks of the Doer or Creator.) Think not then of a divinity that is fragmented into separate realities that are Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, or any one of the many distinctive entities. If one can connect with this Ultimate Reality, then our common humanity becomes supreme, and there is no room left for irreconcilable differences in caste, class, color, gender, race, or national origin. A new year and its celebration speaks of birth, new life, fresh beginnings, and the pleasure that comes with new hopes and expectations, like the dawning of a new day. But much as night and day relentlessly follow each other, similarly, Sikhism says that life comes with a wardrobe with two robes that we all must alternately wear — happiness and sorrow, pleasure and disappointment. Each moment of life, says Sikhism, deserves to be treasured and celebrated. Yes, cultural habits and lifestyles often divide us, but our tent needs to be big enough to include us all. The fences between neighbors must never become walls.