Goodbye 2016 and hello 2017 — we’ve made another lap around the sun. Did the year pass quickly, or did it drag? A day can be long while suffering a toothache. It can go by in a blink while on vacation.

I’m 53 years old, 5-feet-8-inches tall. I live near 40 degrees north, 88 degrees west on “Earth” in the 21st century of the “Common Era.” All that sounds precise, but it’s relative. Swimming champion Dara Torres was more than 41 years old when she qualified for the 2008 Olympics. When asked about the unlikely accomplishment for her age, she replied, “It’s just a number.”

We’re large compared to plankton, miniscule compared to planets or stars. It’s easy to treat measurements like time and distance as absolutes, but our counting is arbitrary. With our spirits we often transcend such measurements. We have the capacity to contemplate the universe in its immensity, subatomic particles in their minutia, and to marvel at our existence in the midst of a wondrous reality.

We care for each other when sick or injured, empathize with one another’s sadness and joy. How do you mark that on a calendar? We befriend those who are outcast, welcome refugees. How do you measure that with a ruler? We can forego advantages for the sake of others less fortunate. How do you locate mercy on a map? With persistence we can achieve seemingly impossible goals. How many kilowatts are produced by a determined heart?

I’m almost 54. According to actuarial calculations, with luck I might live for another 30 solar orbits – that’s 17,520,000,000 miles. How do I compare the measure of my lifespan with the value of teaching children to be kind? How do I calculate the mass of a soul inclined to compassion?

The meaning of our lives is determined more by our choices than our position in space and time. Our potential is calculated more by what we aspire to than by numbers on our birth certificates or bathroom scales. Our beauty is determined more by the visions we see with our hearts than by the curvature of our torsos. Our bodies are bound by gravity and chronology. Our souls are freer than that.

So as we enter 2017, how will you make the most of your days and weeks? What activities can you partake to send waves of peace and compassion across our little corner of the universe?

Ryder is co-pastor of New Covenant Community, a congregation in Normal. Contact him at bob@nccnormal.org.

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