The first month, the month of January, is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, the god of gates and doors. He had two faces, one to look forward and the other to look back. He was a highly respected god among the Romans. His picture was engraved on the city gates and on many Roman coins.
Some early images show one face bearded and the other clean-shaven, perhaps to show youth and age; some are both bearded; some both clean-shaven. Early depictions show him with four faces. Originally Janus was honored on the first day of every month. He held a key in his right hand to open and close gates and doors.
Janus is said to represent the transition between the primitive and the civilized. The word janitor, the caretaker of doors and meeting halls, also comes from Janus.
As we cross the doorway from the old to the new year we think about things from the past we need to lock closed and doors we need to open.
Emerson said, “Truly speaking it is not instruction but provocation that I receive from another soul.” On the one hand, to provoke is to stir up anger or resentment. It also means to stir or move to action, or to stir up feelings. It’s deliberate. It’s intentional. It can be seen as a form of inspiration – something that gets you thinking. It’s a challenging gift.
Reflecting on the gift-giving season we’ve experienced, I’m reminded of gifts of provocation I received during the past year, and cycles of years before that.
For example, I heard someone give a variation on Niebuhr’s serenity prayer – it got me thinking. Most of us know the serenity prayer by heart: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
The variation on Niebuhr’s prayer that I heard at a clergy meeting a few weeks ago says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the people I can change, and the wisdom to know that they’re both me!”
Reflecting on years in the pulpit and in counseling sessions, as well as things in my personal life, I thought of another variation on Niebuhr’s prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot explain, the courage to explain the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. For example, I need the serenity to accept that the concept we call ‘God’ is unexplainable.
Maybe you can think of a variation of Niebuhr’s prayer that suits your needs. I’d like to hear it. Some among us have been hit hard by the economic tidal wave that washed over Wall Street last year; some were stung by Bernard Madoff. Like Janus, we need to be able to look back on the year passed and close some doors, and to look forward to unlock what it is we need in the year ahead. Let’s work on it together. I hope you are well. Happy New Year!