January is the Cruelest Month

29 Jan

   If, as T.S. Eliot says, April is the cruelest month, then January must be a close second. Family celebrations, gifts, parties, and holidays have come and gone. We are left with the chilling, brute facts of winter: it is cold, dark, and quiet. January is the great existential month marked by its silent anxiety, the month where we come to terms with our own mortality, our own sense of purpose and place. It is the month that we wonder not only what resolutions we should make, but what, really, is the point of making all those resolutions anyway?

Winter Lonely Tree Photograph by Larysa Luciw

Winter Lonely Tree Photograph by Larysa Luciw

   I am struck by the quiet of this time of year. We are led to think of how little quiet we ever have, and we do not know what to do with it. This thought struck René Pascal, who wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” We do not know how to face our own self. If we did face that self, what would we find? A substantial whole, a known entity, a being whose questions are easily answered? I think that we would be confounded by greater mysteries and deeper questions.

  Are you really always yourself? Were you born to be who you are today, with all of your character traits and identities? Even if we cannot answer these questions with certainty, there is meaning to be found in this dilemma. By recognizing our problem, perhaps a transcendent solution will present itself, somewhat unexpected and wholly other.

   Thus, we reach our January angst. Thus, the abyss of the self. One of the remarkable things about our Christian faith is that we believe that Jesus Christ faced the heart of this very abyss before his crucifixion. While in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is “alone on earth,” Pascal writes, “not merely with no one to feel and share his agony, but with no one even to know of it. Heaven and he are the only ones to know.” In other words, the Christian faith is realist to its core. It believes in a God who became like any one of us in order to take on the greatest human suffering imaginable. God does not take us out of our sufferings but stands there with us, grasping our shoulder as we shake in fury and despair.

  God does not promise a paradise on earth, but rather something altogether different: a real fellowship with him and his people. It is a fellowship of radical abandonment and otherness. When we encounter Jesus, we are not simply encountering a wise teacher, but rather he who has plunged the depths of our greatest suffering, of all life and death, and who promises to transform their very meaning. When Pascal experienced Christ, he did not necessarily come any closer to understanding his own self, but he found something perhaps more important and meaningful:

“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ….Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.”

 -Tim DeCelle

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