Every year we make resolutions to do things differently, to become different people, better people, more loving, kinder, more faithful. Perhaps we endeavor to finally lead a healthier lifestyle, not eat so much junk food, get more exercise, or take a course to improve our education. I want to suggest to you that this is an exercise that the people of God do each time we meet in God’s name, confess our sins in the presence of God and of one another, and resolve again to live as God's children. Each time we turn or re-turn to God, we are invited to enter into God’s realm, in which no matter the circumstances, no matter the conditions, no matter what everything says and everyone tells you, all things are possible. God’s realm is the realm of possibility.
Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, and his spouse, Rosamund Stone Zander, who is a family systems therapist, have co-written a book entitled “The Art of Possibility” (Penguin Books: New York, 2002). Much of what they say resonates with the proclamation that we hear from God’s Word, especially at the beginning of the Church Year (during our Advent and Christmas seasons) and into 2019. The angel Gabriel responds to Mary’s question about bearing the Messiah, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And, later in Luke's Gospel Jesus responds to the disciples, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God” (Luke 1:37; 18:27). Benjamin Zander describes a new approach to a graduate class that he taught at the New England Conservatory on musical performance. He found that after twenty-five years of teaching, he still came up against the same obstacle. Class after class, the students would be in such a chronic state of anxiety over the measurement of their performance that they would be reluctant to take risks with their playing. One evening he settled down with his wife to see if they could think of something that would dispel their anticipation of failure. What would happen, they thought, if one were to hand an A to every student from the start? They predicted that abolishing grades altogether would only make matters worse, even if the Conservatory could be persuaded to support such a plan. The students would feel cheated of the opportunity for stardom and would still be focused on their place in the lineup. So they came up with the idea of giving them all the only grade that would put them at ease, not as a measurement tool, but as an instrument to open them up to the “universe of possibility.”
“Each student in this class will get an A for the course,” Zander announced. “However, there is one requirement that you must fulfill to earn this grade: Sometime during the next two weeks, you must write me a letter dated next May, which begins with the words, ‘Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because . . .,‘ and in this letter you are to tell, in as much detail as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by next May that is in line with this extraordinary grade.”
In writing the letters they had to place themselves in the future, looking back, and to report on all the insights they acquired and the milestones they attained during the year as if those accomplishments were already in the past. Everything had to be written in the past tense. Phrases such as “I hope,” “I intend,” or “I will” must not appear. He states that the students may wish to mention specific goals reached or competitions won. “But”, he told them, “I am especially interested in the person you will have become by next May. I am interested in the attitude, feelings, and world-view of that person who will have done all she wished to do or become everything he wanted to be.” He told them that he wanted them to fall passionately in love with the person they are describing in their letter. The results were amazing. Instead of focusing on making the grade and whether or not they would measure up, Zander’s students focused on the person that they would become and the prophecy that would be true for them, since it was already at hand. Many of the students found that they had to change habits, they had to change the way they thought of themselves, the way they viewed life and approached their studies. And Benjamin Zander, the teacher, found that he too, had to change the way he approached such gifted and already accomplished students. As the artist Michelangelo is often quoted as having said, “Inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within.” What would happen if we could apply such a visionary concept to our lives, our family, and our work? Zander writes, “The only grace you can have is the grace you can imagine. An A radiates possibility through family, a workplace, and a community, gaining strength, bringing joy and expression and a flowering of talent and productivity. Who knows how far it will travel?"
May God’s possibilities be your first resolution for 2019, where all things are possible and nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rm. 8:39)!
A blessed New Year to all!