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Prayer and Sauerkraut
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new york 640x299One of the New Year traditions in the Kaylor household (ok, to be fair, it’s actually my tradition that my family tolerates) is that we serve sauerkraut and hot dogs on New Year’s Day. It’s a nod to my mother, who used to make us kids eat sauerkraut that day under pain of death if we refused. While mom was a deeply committed Christian, she was also pretty superstitious and that meant that ‘kraut on New Year’s was the equivalent of canon law.


Eating sauerkraut on the first day of the year is actually an old “Pennsylvania Dutch” tradition, which goes back to the German settlers who populated much of the state in the 18th century. The idea was that eating a magical combination of pork and fermented cabbage would bring good luck and prosperity for at least the next twelve months. Since pigs “root forward” as opposed to chickens and turkeys who “scratch backward,” pork symbolizes a good future. Sauerkraut is made of cabbage, which is green. German farmers would pickle it for the winter, thus when it was broken out on January 1 it was to symbolize prosperity or the “green” of money that would surely come with its consumption.


Truth be told, I hated sauerkraut when I was a kid. Now I look forward to it. Instead of a pork roast, however, we substitute hot dogs which, for me at least, is a nod to baseball and the prospect of spring in the midst of a cold winter. I’m also not a believer in luck, choosing instead to gravitate toward the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s that, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”


I do believe in tradition, however, because those traditions tend to help us mark the past and give us sign posts for the future. Eating sauerkraut on New Year’s Day takes me back to my childhood and fond memories of my mother, and it is always the taste of a new year full of possibilities.


This year, I’m adding a new tradition, however, that is far more significant than sauerkraut and offers more preparation in advance of opportunity–and that is to engage in praying in the new year. There’s actually a Methodist precedent for this. John Wesley, along with several of his friends, prayed all night on New Year’s Eve 1738. In his journal for January 1, 1739, Wesley wrote:


About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’


While others were partying (and maybe even wolfing down sauerkraut and pork), Wesley and his friends were at prayer. They were preparing for the year ahead and God’s power fell on them to provide them with the opportunity for a new movement of the Spirit. Earlier in 1738, both John and Charles Wesley had experienced a personal conversion and movement of the heart. Now that movement would spread exponentially, resulting in a powerful awakening of Christian faith and life in England. Prayer had a lot to do with that–preparation meeting opportunity.


As we move into 2020, it seems to me to be the perfect time to revisit this tradition of praying in the New Year. The year ahead promises to be a contentious one in a lot of arenas, from the ballot box to the halls of the United Methodist General Conference. Lots of important decisions will be made and there will be opportunities as well as challenges ahead. I also believe, however, that we’re on the cusp of another Great Awakening. Prayer is the best preparation we can undertake in the tradition of not only our Methodist ancestors but also that of Jesus himself, who regularly spent nights in prayer in preparation for important events.

That’s why we here at Tri-Lakes UMC have set up a 24-hour prayer vigil that will run from noon on New Year’s Eve to noon on New Year’s Day. We’re inviting people to take a 30-minute shift to pray in preparation for 2020. We’ve provided a prayer guide to help align our prayers, focusing on some key challenges and opportunities ahead of us. But this isn’t only a vigil for our local church–it’s a vigil that we hope lots of churches and individuals will adopt as a new tradition. Imagine opening the year with “awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty” and placing ourselves in a position to be part of another great awakening.


We’ll begin and end the vigil with a short prayer service with Holy Communion at the church at noon on New Year’s Eve (December 31) and end with another service at noon on New Year’s Day. You can sign up to join in the prayer vigil, whether you are a part of TLUMC or not. We also encourage others to engage in the tradition praying in the New Year, and maybe even add fasting to that as well. While others are partying and feasting, those who wait upon the Lord will find an even greater reason to celebrate.


Of course, I will also break my fast on New Year’s Day with hot dogs and sauerkraut. After all, it’s tradition!

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