I can’t remember when I’ve been so ready for a New Year to begin.
The old year, 2020, has been memorable, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Vast numbers of people around the world have had a hard time finding hope or encouragement.
Indeed, even the nativity scene set up by the Vatican this year in St. Peter’s Square has drawn the ire of many visitors.
When the Vatican’s creche fails to comfort, what are the faithful to do?
Failing in my search for contemporary expressions of goodness and light, I went to the archives for words that might offer hope in a dark time.
A man named Giovanni Giocondo was born in Verona in the 1430’s. As a Dominican and then Franciscan friar, Giocondo became an accomplished architect, builder, and classical scholar. Not only a marvelous engineer and architect, he exhibited a distinctly spiritual capacity. On Christmas Eve, 1513, Fra Giocondo wrote a holiday greeting to a friend of his, that I offer to you for your meditations as this holiday season draws to a dramatic close:
“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too: be not content with them as joys, for they, too, conceal even more divine gifts.
Life is full of meaning and purpose — so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find this world but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country toward home.
And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”
So from me and mine to you and yours in the New Year, here’s wishing you hope and encouragement, goodness and light.
And that the shadows flee away.
The Rev. Khleber M. Van Zandt V is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice and a member of the Board of the Venice Interfaith Community Association.