I love the blank canvas of January. A whole year of possibility awaits, and I spend some time reflecting on how to make the most of it. Certain perennial self-improvement tasks cross my mind — drink more water, tame my cuticles, lose 10 pounds — but I no longer make resolutions. Instead, I set intentions.
You might ask, “What’s the difference between a resolution and an intention?” It’s a question I pondered myself. A resolution sets a goal to pursue, one you either meet or miss. Pass/fail. It relies on sustained effort and is future-focused.
An intention, on the other hand, is a daily practice. The cultivation of a habit. It centers one in the present. My intentions, I reasoned, mark the direction I want my attention to go. Rather than something to be measured by arduous effort or a singular achievement, success looks like a rhythm of focus.
This year I set three intentions: more poetry, more nature, more liturgy. Then I wrapped them up and tied them with a single word: worship. I’ve set my mind and heart in this direction for the year, and if you know me at all, it won’t surprise you that I’ve selected a book to guide me in each intention. 🙂
But before we get to that, I came to these intentions out of a feeling of unease. Every year holds the potential for calamity, and a person prone to worry could make quite a what-if list every January. I am not naturally prone to anxiety, but I confess to greeting this new year with a feeling of dread. I’m not alone.
Americans face a consequential election at a time when we’ve never been more divided. The potential for catastrophic violence looms large, with images of the January 6th assault on our capitol still fresh in our minds. Beyond our borders, war rages in the Middle East and Ukraine. Mounting tensions in numerous other countries are only a spark away from engulfing entire regions. Of course we’re uneasy. Anxiety feels like a perfectly rational response, right?
And yet, the dangers we see on the horizon are largely beyond our control. It is neither healthy nor wise to live in fear, but combating that natural impulse takes some effort. That was the thought process that led me to my three intentions and my key word. If you find yourself with similar thoughts, I’d love to hear how you are approaching the new year.
Poetry is my fireside cup of tea on a frosty morning. Where I go for comfort. So when I saw a clip of Helena Bonham Carter reading a poem from the stunning book 365 Poems for Life, I couldn’t order the book fast enough. And, oh my. It is everything I hoped for.
Stop right now and listen.
See? What better way to mark each page of the calendar than with a poem? I keep the book on my nightstand and close my day with word images that comfort or surprise or soothe. But always, they enchant. Please, oh please, get this book for your own nightstand. You’re welcome.
The beauty of the natural world is another refuge for me, for reasons that seem contradictory. On one hand, it’s the constancy of nature that grounds me. Mountains that don’t move. I return to favorite places year after year, to find them exactly the same each time. Concerns that weigh on a human mind find no quarter in the mountains and forests.
On the other hand, the natural world is in a constant state of renewal. It breathes. The rhythm of the seasons remind us that change is good and necessary. “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens,” Ecclesiastes reminds us. So when the trees go dormant, we take heart in the life hidden under ground, resting, waiting, renewing.
I have just discovered Margaret Renkl, and I know already that we are kindred spirits. Her book, The Comfort of Crows, chronicles the life she finds in her back yard week after week through an entire year. She honors each critter and plant with her close attention, inviting us to really see the wonders right in front of us each day.
In addition to sparkling prose, each week is captured in a beautiful illustration. The book is a sensory delight. I’m no artist, but I’m inspired to renew my photography efforts to follow her lead and capture some of that wonder.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been feeling a pull toward liturgy and more formal worship for a while now. I left the liturgical tradition at the age of seven, but oddly, I still feel anchored by worship rituals I barely remember.
I’m working on a longer post to more fully explore what’s prompting my interest, so stay tuned. The short version is that I long to recapture transcendence in worship, the sense of community in reciting the creeds, the feeling of being connected to Christ’s church through the ages.
I’m not planning to leave my modern evangelical church, for a variety of reasons, but I’m exploring how to fill a void. One way to do that is through personal rituals. Everyday liturgies. I’ve already found that reciting the Lord’s Prayer every morning puts the day into proper perspective. Wonder what else I will learn this year?
This intention led me to The Book of Common Prayer, as well as the Fullness of Time Series I mentioned in my last post. My next read is Earth Filled with Heaven: Finding Life in Liturgy, Sacraments, and Other Ancient Practices of the Church by Aaron Damiani.
The common thread running through my intentions is worship. In poetry, infinite worlds are embodied in words. In nature, I’m reminded of the constancy of the Creator and the goodness of his purposes toward us. In liturgy, I join with that great cloud of witnesses in a chain of praise. It’s all worship.
I aim to keep my focus above the din of the news cycle this year. Whatever happens, we walk by faith. This Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote captures my mindset perfectly.
I’d love to hear how you are setting your course for the new year. What’s your focus? Do you choose a word for the year? Drop a note in the comments and tell me about it!