Paul Merchant

Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

I’m happy that one of the church congregations I met with on Sunday sang Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” Although the lines about the old year dying (“let him die”) sound morbid, they remind me of two New Year’s Eves that I spent in Colombia, South America, where people made straw effigies of the old year and sat them by their front doors.

These life-sized, scraggly straw men were often filled with unimaginably large firecrackers. At midnight the old years didn’t just die; they exploded in thunderous cracks and littered the streets with their shreds.

The loud violence of the exploding effigies has stayed with me. Years always bring sweet memories to keep and hold, but they also bring emotional and spiritual pain. That pain, in time, can be dressed in old clothes, stuffed with firecrackers, and burned. We can heal. We can forgive and be forgiven. As Tennyson wrote, the New Year’s bells “ring out the darkness” and “ring in the Christ.”