When she decided to walk the famous pilgrim road, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Joyce Rupp was given this wise advice: ‘Drink lots of water and walk in a relaxed manner’. It may be good advice for all of us as we begin this New Year. Whatever about the water, we know it is impossible to ‘walk in a relaxed manner’ if we are at sixes and sevens within ourselves, if we are agitated, worried, driven by endless pressures. So the first thing, even as we begin our journey, is to sit down and take a good look at ourselves. We may be surprised at what we uncover.
A recent full page advert in the newspaper told us in bold letters that ‘The future belongs to the fast!’ Nothing relaxed here if we want to get on, if we are to be at the cutting edge of modern society. We must keep our finger on the button, literally. Recent research found that the average person checks their smart phone six times an hour. Anecdotal evidence would put it much higher. “What’s the last thing you do at night?”, a man asked his work colleagues. Most of them admitted to checking their phones, glancing at Twitter, having a last look at Facebook: a pattern that was repeated first thing in the morning.
Deep down no one wants to live under this (often unrecognised) pressure. Our fear of missing out, of being left behind is very real and is often the goad that drives us day after day. The speed of communication, the overwhelming amount of information bombarding us at every moment can crust our spirit unless we take care and take action. The New Year is a good place to begin to look gently at our lives, at the direction we are going, at the influences that shape us. Worries about our work, our family, the constant pressures weighing us down are all too real, too painful. How hard it is, and how necessary, to hear and act on Jesus’ word: “Do not worry” (Luke 12:22). When we begin to trust in God, our heart expands and we are greatly strengthened for the journey. The pain and pressure may still be there, but they no longer overwhelm us because we meet them with new insight and new hope.
Let us walk into the New Year ‘in a relaxed manner’, opening our hearts to its blessings and thanking God for giving us this time of grace. As our trust in him deepens each day we understand with new insight the words of a favourite psalm: “He guides me along the right path” (Ps 23:3)
This year is the Jubilee of Mercy, called for by Pope Francis. A time of great grace, especially for those who know their need of God. May we be counted among them.