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January 1, 2006

Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions

by Jon M. Sweeney

According to the world’s civic calendar (also known as the Christian Gregorian calendar), January 1 marks the beginning of the New Year. Religious calendars differ.

The Jewish New Year began months ago, on October 4, 2005, the first day of the High Holy Days; for observant Jews, this is the year 5766. The Chinese New Year begins this coming January 29. In the traditional 12-year cycle of counting the years, we will soon celebrate the year of the dog. The new Islamic year begins on January 31; for observant Muslims, this is the year 1427. The Mahayan Buddhist New Year is January 14. New Year’s Day for Bahá'i is March 21 this year.

In the lives of Christians, Lent may be the time for deciding what to give up for God, but the first week of January is when we usually try adding something positive to our lives. There are plenty of options.

You may want to begin or renew a daily habit of reading scripture. Millions of people are motivated to read the Bible cover-to-cover starting on January 1 each year. I would love to know what percentage of them continue past Leviticus.

But, if you are so motivated this year, you may want to use your new MP3 player to help you along. eBible Productions has just issued a King James Bible in “366 Easy 15-minute devotionals. Listen to 1 a day to complete the Bible in 1 year. Each day you will be listening to the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and Words of Jesus. Plays on your computer, iPod, or MP3 Player.”

In addition to online devotions, such as explorefaith's daily Signposts, devotional books are also popular at this time of year. Thousands of people turn to these books each new year, and publishers churn out hundreds of them each January. One of the most popular is Guideposts’ Daily Devotional 2006, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The 2006 theme is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Each daily selection includes an inspiring story, a scripture verse and a prayer.

What about dieting, after the excesses of holiday eating? There are many Christian dieting programs that emphasize more than slimming figures. The first and perhaps still the best of them all at combining the physical with the spiritual is 3D: Diet, Discipline, and Discipleship, by Carol Showalter. Originally begun in 1972, there are nearly one million graduates of the 12-week 3D program.

Or, perhaps you are interested in other spiritual practices. Check out The Spiritual Literacy Project at www.spiritualityandpractice.com. You can purchase DVDs, sign up for e-courses, and read and chat with others who are focusing this coming year on Attention, Beauty, Compassion, Devotion, Enthusiasm, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Hospitality, Imagination, and many other practices in the Christian tradition.

There is plenty more to new year’s resolutions than trimming your waistline and quitting smoking—as important as these things are! Consider what you will do in the coming year, and ask a few friends to join you, or at least to keep you motivated throughout the year.

© 2006 Jon M. Sweeney.

—Jon M. Sweeney is a writer and editor living in Vermont. He is the author of several books, including his recent memoir, BORN AGAIN AND AGAIN: SURPRISING BENEFITS OF A FUNDAMENTALIST CHILDHOOD.
More by Jon Sweeney.

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