Searching for new year happiness

Jan 1st, 2007 | By | Category: Spirituality

On 31st December 1980 I stood in Trafalgar Square in London with tens of thousands of others as the midnight chimes of Big Ben sounded along Whitehall. As midnight struck there was a great eruption of cheers and much embracing of people around.

I stood in the crowd and wondered what it was all about. Why would anyone cheer getting a new diary or turning over the page of a calendar? It seemed entirely hollow and pointless and as the years have passed I have given up entirely celebrating the New Year.

New Year seems an occasion entirely devoid of any spiritual content. There was a custom in the North of Ireland of holding Watchnight Services to mark the arrival of 1st January; they always seemed a rather anaemic version of the Midnight Mass held a week earlier to mark the arrival of the Saviour of the World.

New Year seems a celebration of people looking for meaning. David McWilliams, writing in the Irish Independent last week regards most of contemporary Irish life as a search for meaning

“With precious little spiritual activity out there and no national binding project like, for example, the resurrection of the nation and independence, we are experiencing a form of stunted growth. Yes we are happy, but only momentarily until the next yearning comes on us, until the next “lack” of something manifests itself.

This is not just happening in Ireland, but is occurring all over the English-speaking world.

We have simply forgotten to grow-up and are caught somewhere between permanent infantilism and adolescence – one second overwhelmingly egocentric, the next desperately wanting to belong. This is this psychological challenge for Ireland over the coming decade – and economics is not up to the job. This is a political challenge and what better year to ask the questions than this election year, 2007.”

The immaturity he describes is the immaturity of people who believe that there is fulfilment to be found in material things. Whether it be going to Trafalgar Square to cheer at Big Ben, flying your family to Lapland to see Santa Claus, or driving out this morning in an 07 Mercedes Benz, most people in our new Ireland believe they can buy their way to happiness.

David looks for people to grow up, but they believe they are grown up. The problem lies in their perception of the world in purely materialist terms, and in the failure of the churches to offer a spiritual alternative that offers them meaning and purpose. It may be a political challenge; it is much more a theological one.

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