As we enter yet another year, some of us may have different feelings about the days ahead—hopeful, weary, longing, joyous, fearful—yet no matter your outlook on the potential that this new year holds, it might do us good to consider a rather unexplored question: What is the significance of a new year?
The never-ending sequence of time, embedded into our reality, is something we take for granted; but what we believe about it (consciously or subconsciously) will greatly impact the way we live our lives. In the clips above, Contributor Os Guinness explores this idea by giving us three worldview perspectives on time: cyclical, covenantal, and chronological. While each view bears with it its own significance, Os argues that the Christian view of time gives us the most purposeful trajectory.
We at Praxis Circle will explore the concept of time in-depth as it is foundational to worldview—in fact, is it one of the very worldview pillars. Until then, please reflect on this text by English philosopher and theologian G.K. Chesterton that speaks into the purposefulness of time—and not just of time itself, but the “sudden and ceaseless cutting in two of time” that we know as new years. His well-known quote from the text is bolded below, but I have included the greater excerpt.
“New Years and such things are extraordinarily valuable. They are arbitrary divisions of time; they are a sudden and ceaseless cutting in two of time. But when we have an endless serpent in front of us, what can we do but cut it in two? Time is apparently endless, and it is beyond all question a serpent. The real reason why times and seasons and feasts and anniversaries arose is because this serpent of time would otherwise drag his slow length along over all our impressions, and there would be no opportunity of sharply realising the change from one impression to another. So far from interruptions being in their nature bad for our aesthetic feelings, an interruption is in its nature good. It would be an exceedingly good thing if we had the dread of such an interruption constantly before us when we are enjoying anything. It would be good if were expected a bell to ring towards the end of a sunset. It would be good if we thought the clock might strike while we were in the perfect pleasure of staring at sea and sky. Such a sudden check would bring all our impressions into an intense and enjoyable compass, would make the vast sky a single sapphire, the vast sea a single emerald. After long experience of the glories of sensation men find that it is necessary to put to our feelings this perfect artistic limit. And after a little longer experience they find that the God in whom they hardly believe has, as the perfect artist, put the perfect artistic limit—death.
Death is a time limit; but differs in many ways from New Year’s Day. The divisions of time which men have adopted are in a sort of way a mild mortality. When we see the Old Year out, we do what many eminent men have done, and what all men desire to do; we die temporarily. Whenever we admit that it is Tuesday we fulfil St. Paul, and die daily. I doubt if the strongest stoic that ever existed on earth could endure the idea of a Tuesday following on a Tuesday, and a Tuesday on that, and a Tuesday on that, and all the days being Tuesdays till the Day of Judgment, which might be (by some strange and special mercy) a Wednesday.
The divisions of time are arranged so that we may have a start or shock at each reopening of the question. The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. It is that we should look out instantaneously on an impossible earth; that we should think it very odd that grass should be green instead of being reasonably purple; that we should think it almost unintelligible that a lot of straight trees should grow out of the round world instead of a lot of round world growing out of the straight trees. The object of the cold and hard definitions of time is almost exactly the same as those of the cold and hard definitions of theology; it is to wake people up. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Of such dramatic renascences New Year’s Day is the great example. Doubtless this division of time can be described as an artificiality; but doubtless also it can be described more correctly, as a great artificial thing ought always to be described—that is, as one of the great masterpieces of man. Man has, as I have urged in the case of religion, perceived with a tolerable accuracy his own needs. He has seen that we tend to tire of the most eternal splendours, and that a mark on our calendar, or a crash of bells at midnight maybe, reminds us that we have only recently been created. Let us make New Year resolutions, but not only resolutions to be good. Also resolutions to notice that we have feet, and thank them (with a courtly bow) for carrying us.”
G.K. Chesterton, written for the Daily News between 1900-1911, reprinted in Lunacy and Letters, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1958, p. 71-74).