Happy New Year from all Itchen Valley Parish!
The following article appears in the January edition of Itchen Valley News
I got engaged on New Year’s Day…a few years ago now. There is something about a New Year. If it is not close relations and friends asking you difficult-to-answer questions, the Christmas and New Year’s holiday gives you the space to reflect on, where your life is going. Many of us get engaged at around this time.
Some others of us feel pretty disconsolate as we recover from all the partying and start to get geared up for another 12 months. Maybe that is why so many people every January take out expensive subscriptions to gyms, perhaps in the hope that, by improving their physical fitness, they will end up feeling happier.
But I want to recommend to you not so much physical fitness, as spiritual fitness. But before you yawn and turn over the page, did you by any chance read agony aunt Marie O’Riordan’s article in the Times just before Christmas entitled ‘How to survive Christmas with your family’. She writes: “None of us deliberately saves up our worst family rows for Christmas…but the occasion certainly seems to be an arena tailor made for a SuperRow. Extended contact with unfamiliar relatives, enforced jolliness; morning drinking; afternoon drinking; manifestly overindulged, whining kids, dyspepsia; dysphoria…..no wonder lawyers describe their first day of business after New Year as “Divorce Day”. This is the time of year when unhappiness explodes”
Marie gives a series of answers to questions which her readers have sent in, which I hope were useful to those who read the article. But, if you did have a SuperRow over the holiday and are sitting now in the emotional aftermath, I wonder if another agony……uncle’s words might be of some help. St. Paul describes, in Galatians Chapter 4 verse 19, the way we are naturally, without taking spiritual exercise. And many of the words he uses are similar to those used in the introduction to that Times article. But he also describes, in verse 22, the characteristics of those who are spiritually fit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self –control”.
When I first read verse 22 I thought to myself – so this is what spiritual fitness means: I must grit my teeth and try and show these virtues, even though I didn’t want to do so and even though it was really difficult. Maybe I was just a natural curmudgeon.
But then I looked at the words that St Paul uses to describe these virtues: he calls them ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. The Spirit in this case is not alcoholic, not sloe gin, but rather the Holy Spirit – one of the Trinity, with the Father and the Son, who make up God. Christians see the Holy Spirit as a person – not an ‘it’. And Christians believe that any of us can ask the person of the Holy Spirit to come and live in us and fill us up. As the Holy Spirit does so, we find that we change. We start to show these virtues. We no longer want to be the curmudgeon, the person who takes exception to Uncle Jerome’s tasteless jokes or Aunt Agatha’s personal hygiene. The virtues St Paul describes are the fruits of the Holy Spirit because they are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit living in us, making us the way we were always intended by God to be, not the product of us gritting our teeth and trying hard to be nice.
So how do we get this character make over? All we need to do is to ask God’s forgiveness for being the miserable so and so that we were in the past, resolve not to be one again and to ask for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives to make this happen. If we do this sincerely (from our hearts) then the Holy Spirit will do so and we will find that gradually we will change.
As this happens, we find that we become more interested in the Holy Spirit who has achieved the transformation and in God the Father and the Son. We find that we want to learn more about God and speak to God in prayer. A good way of doing this is to read the Bible daily in a modern version – I use the New International Version of the Bible and follow something called the Bible in One Year www.htb.org/bioy – which has a really useful and relevant commentary. It’s available as a smart phone app so you can read it on the train as you commute or as you have your first morning coffee, when the children allow.
So, if we really want to change, why not try out becoming spiritually fit, as well as physically fit, in 2015? Spiritual fitness will make a real and lasting change and there is absolutely no subscription to be paid.
Revd Alex Pease