Recently in one of the daily blogs I receive, I read Gary Johnson’s poem, "Another Year." Johnson is a film and video writer, politician, and farmer, but also a provocative poet. His words made me stop, pause, and look back over 2021. His poem begins with these words…
"Another year gone and the old man with the scythe
Is mowing closer. He hasn’t been subtle, has he.
Too many good people gone, and I could sit and cry…"
Too many good people have gone from us in this past year. Just to name a few: Hank Aaron, Betty White, Michael Collins, Colin Powell, Eric Carle, Vernon Jordan, Bob Dole, John Madden, Stephen Sondheim, Harry Reid, Lee Elder, and Desmond Tutu.
Some of them made us laugh, some entertained us in film or books or in sports, some expanded our understanding of our universe, and some struggled to make our country and world more just and loving.
In addition, we sadly remember the 405,769 Americans who died in 2021 due to COVID-19. Each of us can then conclude this reflection by naming people who graced our lives and this world and who are profoundly absent from us as we begin this year.
As we cry for their absence among us, I am filled with resolve that in this new year I want to live as faithfully as I can because I recognize my last day will also come. Hopefully, later than sooner, but there are no guarantees.
G. Studdert Kennedy was an English Anglican priest and poet. When World War I broke out, he volunteered as a chaplain to the army on the Western Front. There he gained the nickname "Woodbine Willie," because he gave Woodbine cigarettes to the soldiers he met, as well as spiritual aid to injured and dying soldiers.
Kennedy wrote a poem, entitled "Well?," in which he imagines appearing before God following his own death. In his dream there was not a judgment court, a white throne, or a record book of all he had done right or wrong. Rather, all he sees are the eyes of God. And then, Kennedy says I “stand and look into 'Is face, And 'ear 'Is voice say — 'Well?'”
Kennedy knows that before the God of grace, he is not in danger of damnation. But he is being asked to give an account of how he lived. And, in his thick Irish accent, he writes:
"And day by day, and year by year,
My life came back to me.
I see'd just what I were, and what
I'd 'ad the chance to be.
And all the good I might 'a' done,
An' 'adn't stopped to do."
What was haunting Kennedy was not all the things he had done, but rather all the things he had the chance to do, all the good he might have done and failed to do.
As we all one day stand before the God of grace, I think that, too, will be our only worry. What did I fail to do that I was able to do? To what evil did I fail to say, Enough! What injustice did I shy away from speaking up about? What opportunity did I fail to get involved with because it is easier to just amuse myself with another round of golf, another trip, another diversion? As I look in the eyes of God, my only fear will be how did I let God down by not living the fullest life possible?
As we live into a new year many opportunities will come our way. What will we do with them? None of us can do it all, but surely each of us can do our part.
Ron Shive is the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, which worships on Sunday at 10 a.m. at 508 W. Davis St., Burlington. Info: www.fpcburlington.org.
This article originally appeared on Times-News: Opportunities in the new year to do good in our Christian lives