The January Man
A new year starts
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To encourage us to consider our short-term, medium-term and long-term focus.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the song ‘January man’ and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. The version by Christy Moore is 3.43 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDCejNGfK7M
- Have available the lyrics for the song ‘January man’ and the means to display them at the beginning of the assembly. They are available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7h9p7j7
- You will also need a reader for the Bible passage Ecclesiastes 3.1-8. A version is available at: https://tinyurl.com/zzztxjl
- Welcome to our first assembly of 2019. A new year, a new term, a new dawn of our lives. I’d like us to begin by listening to a song about January. It’s called ‘January man’ and it was written by Dave Goulder. We are going to listen to the version sung by Christy Moore, the well-known Irish singer-songwriter.
Play the song ‘January man’ with the lyrics displayed.
- Those of you with an ear for poetry and lyrics will have spotted that this song works on several levels. On the one hand, it’s a song about the year that stretches ahead, taking the listener through the changes of the seasons month by month and arriving back at the starting point the following January.
- This is a time for looking ahead. Some of us may have made New Year’s resolutions. (If possible, relate one you have made yourself.) Our intention is that each resolution will make the year ahead more productive and less stressful, more lively and less inhibited. Others will have planned holidays or events to attend. It’s the time of year when many people do, so that they have something to look forward to in the depths of winter. Maybe there are study schedules to devise, deadlines to meet and exams to prepare for. Some of us may be thinking about our hopes for a career, an apprenticeship, a place at college or a university course. By this time next year, some of us may have left home and begun independent living. So, like the January man or woman, all of us plot our route through the next 12 months.
- However, if we explore the lyrics of ‘January man’ further, the song expands to become a metaphor for life, a bit like Shakespeare’s famous ‘Seven ages of man’ speech from his play As You Like It. In spring, there are the children with their expressions of freedom. Early summer sees the young man eager to be productive. Then, lethargy sets in with the responsibilities of adulthood. Autumn brings a sense of reliance, the need for support and a little despondency at approaching winter with its symbolism of old age.
- Where is our focus right now? It might be very tight, close-up, concerned with the issues of January, the immediate moment. That’s fine, as long as we don’t find ourselves being only reactive, managing the crises of the moment. It’s useful also to look up and project ahead, at least into the medium term. The January man or woman needs to imagine what April and May might bring. Doing so may help to avert some crises in the future and may also create in us a sense of hope and opportunity. Spring and summer represent a new start, a time when things may be different. Then, when we’re able to look a little ahead, we could try for a moment to focus on our lives even further ahead. Who do we want to become? What will our family look like? What could be our achievements? What will we be remembered for? The focus changes when we look further into the future.
Time for reflection
When we take a close-up look at today and tomorrow, and then zoom out to the whole of our lifetime, it makes us realize how much time there is ahead of us and what we can enjoy and achieve. There’s a passage in the Old Testament part of the Bible (the part shared by Jews and Christians) that expresses this very clearly. It begins with the statement, ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ It then goes on to list numerous contrasting pairs of activities, such as being born and dying, tearing down and building up, weeping and laughing, silence and speaking. In fact, let’s listen to the whole list.
Ask the reader to read Ecclesiastes 3.1-8.
It’s a picture of the sweep of time and opportunity that stretches ahead of us, a sweep that is greater for you than it is for me. It’s also a description of the years that we’ve already seen, the contrasting events that we’ve experienced. But in addition, it’s a reminder that, when the opportunity arises to plant, to heal, to build or to embrace, we are advised to take it, for it may not come again. In May, we might look back with regret at January and what might have been.
The Bible passage is set in the context of a world where God is both creator and sustainer. If we have a faith, we can draw on this faith in our journey. If we choose to depend solely on our own resources, the opportunities, difficulties and threats are still the same. Are we up for the challenge? January men and women: let's enter the new year with hope and anticipation.
Thank you for the new start that each day represents.
Remind us of this when we feel overwhelmed by the failures of the past.
Help us to change our focus.
‘January man’ by Dave Goulder. The version sung by Christy Moore is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDCejNGfK7M