To see oursels’ as God sees us
Dorothy CUMMINGS MCLEAN seeks inspiration from Robert Burns as she reflects on resolutions for the new year
As a Catholic, I have two periods of abstemiousness—Lent and Advent—and January falls within the traditional Christmas season, which ends with Candlemas on February 2. After a dry Advent, I like my wee drink. Naturally I understand the psychology behind the January dry-out, but the solution to the Hogmanay hangover is not to drink too much on December 31.
One secular custom I do enjoy is the making of New Year’s Resolutions. Fasting and feasting may be tied to the liturgical year, but repentance and reconciliation are always in fashion. Ignatian spirituality, practised by the Jesuits, their students and their retreatants, includes a nightly examination of conscience.
This entails a mental review of the entire day. The examiner notes when he or she has done good or evil, has slipped up or done well, has moved closer to God or has moved further away.
Regular examination of conscience makes it easier to grasp the truth about oneself. Amusingly, Robert Burns’ famous couplet, ‘O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/to see oursels as ithers see us,” comes from a poem called To a Louse. In the poem, the poet observes a louse crawling about the bonnet of a rich woman. At first inclined to think the nit ought to find humbler prey, Burns reflects that we’re all the same to a louse. He concludes that everyone would be a lot more modest if we could see ourselves from the outside. I suggest that trying to look at ourselves as God does—with perfect knowledge and yet also with perfect love for both us and our victims—would bring the best results.
Too much introspection can lead to self-absorption, but limiting one’s review to five minutes a night can guard against that. Naturally, it is painful to acknowledge one’s faults, but as physical training involves discomfort, it should come as no surprise that spiritual training does too. This reminds me that for a strange reason one of the most common New Year’s resolutions known to humankind is losing ten to 20 pounds in weight. Naturally (or unnaturally, thanks to 21st century eating habits) we need to keep our weight under control, but surely ‘cut down on sugar’ and ‘go for a half hour walk every day’ would be more to the point. After all, even underweight people can get diabetes.
I wonder if our unhappiness with our physique prevents us from making resolutions about more pressing problems. Our struggle with fat is secondary to our moral struggles with bad habits or vice. For example, many people are allowing social media to take precedence over real face-to-face interactions with family and friends. Personally I can spend hours on the internet reading news and opinions that I forget about frighteningly quickly. This is a terrible waste of my time and gifts. Last December I resolved to read—and finish—52 proper books; I failed to reach that goal, but I did read 43.
Another pressing problem is the amount of waste we produce. According to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Scottish households produced 2.47 million tonnes of waste. Of that, 1.15 million tonnes went into landfill. The rest is apparently in the blue boxes under my kitchen table, as my husband hates to take them out to the bins (“It’s a long way,” he says.)
His New Year’s resolution is to be more proactive about taking the recycling out, but mine involves shopping more carefully and eschewing as much packaging as I can. A young American lady has made a now-viral YouTube video titled ‘I Tried to Make Zero Trash for 30 Days’; have a look—I found it most inspiring.
Finally I have made a resolution to learn more about devotions to Our Lady of Fatima. October 2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of the last of the Fatima apparitions, and to celebrate I will read all about them. My mother was brought up by Protestant parents, so the Marian devotions prominent in our parish church were not a central part of my religious upbringing at home. But if Sr Lucia dos Santos is to be believed—and St John Paul II certainly believed her—we ought to resolve to pray the rosary every day and annually complete the Five First Saturday devotion, too.
Most Catholics won’t need to abstain from licit pleasures taken in moderation in the middle of our Christmas season. However, we can take advantage of the tradition of New Year’s Resolution to answer God’s call to repent and amend our lives. This doesn’t have to stop at blasting belly fat, and indeed it shouldn’t.