Such as we are, such are the times

January 05, 2017

Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying, but let us live well, and times will be good. We are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.  —Saint Augustine
I came across this quote when I was doing some journaling and reflecting on New Year’s Eve. I was considering the year past and discerning how I wanted to go into the year ahead. I know all those things they say about New Year’s resolutions—about how we never keep them, and it is not that helpful of a practice. I admit I tend to make the same ones every year. Turns out, most of us do. Greg Strunk showed this funny video as a part of his sermon at The Well on Jan 1.

In spite of all of that, I still spend time every New Year, thinking about who I want to be and making what I call “intentions.” This is not so much about what I want to do, but who I want to be in the coming year, and given who I want to be, how then I shall live. After all my praying, pondering, and writing, I try to coalesce it into a single phrase that becomes my focus for the year. 
In this year’s ruminations, I realized that what gives me life is some of those very things we always make resolutions about: time with family and friends, learning new things and going new places, getting outdoors, keeping Sabbath. I am at the age where all the striving in the first half of my adulthood to succeed and achieve has given way to something different. I have enough. What draws me now is experiencing the fullness of life in all the small moments: A great meal with a good friend. Looking for beauty wherever it shows up. I yearn for a more “simple” life where I sleep well, eat well, play more, experience more of life. That is what I want to get out of life. 
But what do I want to give to life? That is where the quote I shared comes in. I was Googling “live well” since that was becoming more clear as my intention for this year—and up came the quote. I have no idea about the context or when Augustine wrote it, but what struck me is that he lived between 354 and 430, a time when the Western Roman Empire was disintegrating, so the times were changing and there had to be a great deal of anxiety. This was his word in the midst of his times. Yes, the times do shape us as they are the context in which we are living, but we are not defined solely by the times. As Augustine points out, we have the power to shape our lives and the world. As soon as I read this quote, I knew it was mine for the year: Such as we are, such are the times! 
There are all sorts of prognostications about the year ahead with a new president in the U.S., Brexit playing out in Europe, and continuing unrest in the Middle East. I don’t know what this year will bring. But I also know that we are agents in this human existence. Life does not just happen to us. God has invited us to be co-creators in it. I want to live in a way that adds goodness, beauty, joy, kindness, and love to this world. And guess what—that often happens in the small moments, in the midst of daily encounters. How am I treating people? What attitude am I bringing to my work and family? Am I helping where I can help? 
As United Methodists, we believe that God is not done with us. Sanctification is about growing more and more in God’s grace, and the result is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) being seen in and through us. Wesley probably got that from Augustine (and Augustine from Paul before him) because that is the heart of living well. So my friends, whether you consider these the best of times or the worst of times, let us live well because we are the times!

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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