As the new year beckons, I’m reminded of a Japanese proverb that cautions: “When standing at a crossroads, choose what you love, for you will live with the consequences.”
It’s a thought-provoking adage since all day, every day, we’re faced with choices. From the clothes we wear and the food we eat to the way we spend our leisure time, the choice is ours. Granted, some choices may seem insignificant, but when we consider that they often lay the ground for acquired habits, they take on a deeper meaning, especially when it comes to formulating New Year’s resolutions.
Re-evaluating dietary and exercise habits are perhaps the most common resolutions, though typically the first to fall by the wayside. The reason for the low success rate may have much to do with what’s motivating the decision.
When the choice for a healthier lifestyle is motivated less by vanity than by love and respect for our body as a gift from God and a temple of the Holy Spirit, our decision takes on a spiritual dimension that affects not only the health of our body, but the health of our soul.
Every choice, every decision, has a spiritual component, and sooner or later we will live with the consequences. Like any act that requires self-discipline, resolve is strengthened through practice. It doesn’t matter whether our resolve concerns diet, exercise or the practice of prayer and good works. Every good decision is prompted by and accomplished through grace.
When thinking about choices in the context of the Christmas season, I found myself wondering about the choices of the Magi as they set out on a journey that changed their lives. Most people would have regarded their choice as foolish. T. S. Eliot captured the challenges of the Magi against harsh conditions in his poem “The Journey of the Magi.”
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
The journey entailed crossing foreign lands, unforgiving desert terrain, questioning eyes and mocking smiles, yet they continued with nothing to guide them but a star. It was a choice that required more than curiosity; it required faith.
Somewhere deep within the center of their souls existed a longing to experience a glimpse of the divine regardless of the cost. They may not have been able to identify it as a hunger for God, but that’s what it was.
We could apply the same thinking to the spiritual hunger that lies deep within the center of every human being — a hunger that can only be satisfied by God. The spiritual hunger that motivated the Wise Men to remain faithful to the journey should remind us of our own deepest hunger, which no amount of food will satisfy.
The resolve of the Magi raises questions for me about my own faith journey and the choices I make.
Do I obscure my spiritual hunger by filling it with all that pleases the palate, massage its ache, or silence its groaning with the busyness of the day? Have I grown deaf to the whisper of the Holy Spirit and allowed cynicism to dim the light surrounding the birth of Christ?
After the wise men worshiped the Son of God, they were changed. Enlightened by their encounter, each could proclaim with divine certitude:
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
And so, we might ask: How has worshipping the Infant God changed our priorities and resolve? Health officials have schooled us regarding the wisdom of taking precautions. Although many have grown COVID weary, to let our guard down invites danger.
The same could be said of our spiritual journey. We celebrate the journey of the Magi every year, not to confirm their experience, but to be changed by it. We learn from them because when this crisis is over, there will be others.
The storms in life come along not as punishments but as interventions, prompting us to re-evaluate where we’ve been and where we’re going because we will live with the consequences.
As the New Year beckons, let us pray that this year’s challenges and choices become a means of ongoing transformation. Like the Wise Men, may we allow ourselves to be guided by the light of faith that burns and guides us from within.