If we are clear about where we are and where we want to end up, 2014 planning, important as it is, becomes a mere waypoint toward our Finish Line, whether a day, a year or a lifetime away. Over the last two weeks, I began to explore five beacons to guide us in the Present while Planning for 2014 and aligning to our Finish Line. While I first learned of these as five regrets, I have reframed them as five powerful beacons lighting our way into our legacy (for the five beacons, click HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2).
- “I choose to live a life true to myself.”
- “I choose to let myself be happy.”
- “I choose to stay in touch with friends.”
- “I choose to express my true feelings.”
- “I choose to work enough.”
Today is Christmas Eve, that liminal space between the Not Here (just ask your preschool kids!) and the Here. While the above five beacons I’ve described light the way into our Here, we may be acutely aware of our inner Grinch who might rob us of the power to bring our best intentionality to fruition.
What might we do with that to avoid reliving the regrets of those on their Finish Line?
Phillip Brooks was a 19th century Episcopal priest known for his support of freeing the slaves and allowing former slaves the right to vote. On Christmas Eve in 1865, he was inspired to pen these words:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
What hopes and fears might he have thought of? He may have remembered that on Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln had penned the Proclamation that brought hope to all the slaves in the 10 Confederate states.
Phillip Brooks reflected on how Abraham Lincoln kept that intention alive and refused to let the slavery Grinch win:
For [Lincoln] there was no hesitation when God brought him face to face with Slavery and put the sword into his hand and said, ‘Strike it down dead.’ He was a willing servant then. If ever the face of a man writing solemn words glowed with a solemn joy, it must have been the face of Abraham Lincoln, as he bent over page where the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was growing into shape and giving manhood and freedom to hundreds of thousands of his fellowmen. Here was an act wherein his whole nature could rejoice. … It was to the American nature, long kept by God in his own intentions till his time should come… Source: http://bit.ly/1c4ULBw
The fruition of that hope seemed to come on April 9, 1865. On that day Lee had surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Court House. Yet six days later, Lincoln was assassinated and that hope dimmed. During that long summer of 1865, that hope languished, awaiting the eventual surrender of the other Confederate generals.
So, was the longing of Phillip Brooks’ heart realized then with that last surrender? Not quite. While the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, they would not get the right to vote until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870. That Amendment allowed all—even those formerly enslaved—to have the right to vote. (And it took almost another century for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to finally outlaw open racial discrimination).
In the midst of the waiting for slavery to end and for former slaves to get the vote, and, in spite of the assassination of that Great Champion of Emancipation, Brooks saw the Light even in the darkness. What was that Light? In the final stanza he tells us:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Brooks rightly captured the essence of the human heart—“the hopes and fears of all the years” and the incredible impact of God-being-with-Us—“are met in thee tonight.” O Little Town of Bethlehem reminds us that even in the Not Here, Emmanuel can be the presence to keep the five beacons of hope burning brightly even in the darkest night of fearful waiting.
Consider: What one of the five beacons of hope might you want to kindle this Christmas Eve? What Grinch-like fears/regrets might you want to see extinguished?