'It's a threshold for stepping into something new and unknown'
What does the new year mean to you? We ask three nuns who are seeking to inspire us all to live sustainably, a scientist who writes poetry and an economist who believes quality of life is more important than money, writes ARMINTA WALLACE
Another year, another new beginning. And while some people relish the idea of dipping a toe into a pristine field of untouched days, there are many of us for whom it makes the heart sink to even think of it. Maybe that’s the problem. We human creatures think too much. Look around you: the earth does the “new year, new you” thing every year without fuss or chatter or large quantities of alcohol. Out in your garden and in the fields and city parks of Ireland, the buds and shoots are already curled up, calmly waiting for spring. Though it may not feel like it during the short, frenetic days before Christmas and the gloom of early January, the year has already turned past the point of greatest darkness. We’re heading back into the light.
But if you need help recharging your batteries this new year, there’s plenty of that around too.
Teresa Devine, Ethna Kelly and Marian O’Sullivan are nuns from An Tairseach eco-centre and farm shop at the Dominican convent in Wicklow town. They run courses in organic gardening and cosmology, use solar panels and have planted 10,000 trees and counting.
Do you look forward to 2013 with dread or delight?“I look forward, I would say, with hope,” says Marian O’Sullivan. “Much more important than my personal hopes or fears, though, is the longer-term future which I will not be around to see. My hopes are for peace in the Middle East, for the eradication of extreme poverty, food for everyone – in other words a more just future.
“My big fear is that we humans will not take the necessary steps to limit climate change and that the results will be catastrophic for humanity and for all life. We have taken great inspiration from Miriam MacGillis at Genesis Farm in New Jersey. Her new year’s letter on their website quotes Yeats, TS Eliot and the Sufi poet Hafiz as it urges people to engage with environment and sustainability issues in 2013. I have some hope that ordinary people are waking up to the seriousness of the situation and that events like Hurricane Sandy will bring this truth home to those in power.”
How do you usually spend New Year’s Eve?“Like most religious, I spend Christmas with my congregation,” says Teresa Devine, “and then for new year I join my family. I’m from Tyrone and I’m the second youngest of 10. New Year is a celebratory time for us. We have the second and third generations calling in; some of the younger ones go out, but they ring back at 12 o’clock. We look at photos of the past year, and we always see the new year in with music.
“There’s always a bit of a lament for the old year, and for those of us who had death or illness in that year. But there’s hope for the new year as well. No one would go to bed before 12 o’clock: that would show total disrespect for the old year and the new one. It’s a bit like this place, An Tairseach: it’s a threshold for stepping into something new and unknown, and it’s exciting.”
At this time of year, do you find yourself thinking about new beginnings? Do you find it difficult? “I must say that when I see something like Al Gore’s film, An Uncomfortable Truth, and also when I experience the way politicians talk and behave, and all the talk of growth and market forces and capitalism, I do find it very difficult,” says Ethna Kelly. “I find myself nearly paralysed by powerlessness. However, I’m also aware that at all times of great change people have come up with new ideas for how to live on the planet.