Perhaps no current religious thinker worth his salt ought to look back. At the start of a new year he should fix eager eyes on the distant horizon and think long thoughts about the opportunities that lie ahead.

Not me. It is for me a season of stocktaking. The end of a year prompts the memory of things undone: the time I did not give to a middle-aged relative crippled by multiple sclerosis; my impatience with an old minister who liked to talk, and who died during the year; the college students I did not invite for a meal because students can be so demanding. Thomas Hood had words for it:

The wounds I might have healed!

The human sorrow and smart!

And yet it never was in my soul

To play so ill a part;

But evil is wrought by want of thought,

An well as want of heart.

But it’s not just my attitude toward others. Some time back I came across a 1915 number of the Boston Congregationalist in which an anonymous pastor made a couple of resolutions. I may have quoted them before, but they are worth repeating at this New Year season:

I am going to clean up my inner life. There are three distinct demons that have troubled me much in the past that I am going to lay for good this winter. I have been drifting; this is going to be a winter of mastery. I am going to cut out all that has become unreal in my life and conversation, stock public prayers that mean nothing any longer, pulpit phrases that have lost their savor, and all social cowardices and hypocrisies.

I know, I know, there’s a missing dimension in all that, but I like the sound of that man, and have often wondered if those three D.D.’s he referred to got what was coming to them by way of exorcise. Nineteen seventy-five was a year in which more than usually I reflected ...

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