In ancient Rome, Janus was the two-faced god of beginnings and endings, but also of transitions and passages. It is therefore no surprise that they associated the new year—the month following the winter solstice—with this figure.
Even acknowledging the Northern hemispheric bias of this imagery, the notion that January is a time of transitions is apt. While I have not been one to make New Year’s resolutions, I can appreciate that it can be good to take stock of one’s life in a manner not unlike what St. Ignatius meant by a “general Examen.” He used this term to describe the attempt to distinguish the thoughts that arise within myself from those that come from outside, and thereby to foster in myself a discerning attitude toward what God is trying to do through my free cooperation with the divine will.
What Ignatius understood was that it is important to dedicate time and attention to big questions: How is my life going? Where am I with God? What is getting in the way of the great good that God wants to do with my life? What ought to be a source of joy? What blind spots get in the way of my celebrating what is precious?
The image of Janus reminds me that our vision is frequently double. We look backwards on past experiences, sometimes with gratitude and other times with regret. We also look forward, sometimes with hope and other times with fear. If we think of January as a time for a general Examen, though, we bring a discerning attitude to this double vision. What does God want me to see as I look backward? What feelings will I give time and attention to in order to receive what our tradition calls a “theological virtue,” namely the gift of hope?
Perhaps January can be a time of reframing our vision, so that we see more clearly what God is doing in our lives. Perhaps this or that difficulty, however real, is small in comparison to the great good that our patient endurance will yield. Perhaps this or that pleasure, however consoling, is getting in the way of something deeper that God wants to bring forth in us.
Let our most basic resolution, then, be that we attend to what God wants to show us. Perhaps that will mean rededicating ourselves to time in prayer or worship. Perhaps it will mean greater attentiveness to those we love. Perhaps it will mean seeking out those who are hurting or vulnerable. In any case, let us name as our desire that in this process of reframing, God may bring forth joy in our lives.