Be a Poet for the New Year

Earlier this month many of us joined a gym, bought exercise clothes, and stocked the pantry with quinoa. We decided to de-clutter our lives once and for all. We planned to try Marie Kondo’s method of picking up every object we own and giving away whatever does not bring us joy. (And we still have more than a few items that are not bringing us joy.) At this point in January we rename a few of our goals for the year “wishful thinking.” But other hopes yet live.

We can still consider what we could do to make 2017 better than 2016. The New Year’s ritual of making resolutions may feel clichéd, but exploring the desires and questions that lead to new commitments is a good spiritual practice. So we think about what we hope for, and ask how our lives could become less frustrating and more fulfilling. How could we become less distracted and more focused on what matters most? What do we need to hold onto for dear life, and what do we need to let go of?

A new year is a bold invitation to pay attention to our lives. But as we dream about ways to make a difference in the world, deepen our friendships, love our families more fully, carve out time to read good books, write the novel that’s waiting inside of us, and explore prayer, we realize around January 12 that we need more than firm resolve and good intentions. January is the best month for us to meet Anna.

Anna is the prophet in Luke 2 whose life has not gone as planned. She was married for seven years, then she became a widow to the age of eighty-four. Feeling bitter about her circumstances and lost without a purpose would have been easy. Instead, Anna is drawn to the Temple. She spends her time there. She gives her heart to God there. Those choices turn her into a fine prophet.

Prophets come in different forms. Sometimes prophets are playwrights, carpenters, stay-at-home parents, commuters, and songwriters. Prophets learn how to look for God in the world and say what they see. That sounds like the job description of a poet. William Blake called poets the “seers” and “namers” among us. Prophets and poets share a similar purpose and skill set. Both vocations take time to develop. Both invite us to see the depth, hope, and creative possibility in a life with God. They help us find purpose. They try to show us Truth. They teach us there is new potential to discover even in bleak circumstances. Learning how to see like this, and learning how to express what we discover takes devotion, but what a worthy pursuit this is for any life and any new year.

Anna spent hours, days, weeks, and years in the Temple, worshiping, fasting, praying, and waiting. She learned to love her life because she lived it for God. Hers became a life worth living, an unexpected life rich in vision, hope, and care. She found a future greater than the one she had pictured at her husband’s funeral. God gave her a purpose.

One day she arrives at the Temple at the very moment Jesus does. She knows this baby is the one she has hoped to see all of her life. She has learned the story. She has learned how to recognize God. She has words for this. She knows this moment holds the hope that everyone else is waiting to see. Anna the prophet is prepared to name the moment for everyone so that no one will miss it: “Here is hope. Right here. God is with us now. Pay attention. Do not miss this.”

We need more Annas. Churches need devoted prophet-poets like her. Families, classrooms, hospitals, courtrooms, businesses, and apartment communities need people like Anna there.

What would happen if more of us spent this year learning how to see that God is with us and calling attention to those moments? What would happen if, in the middle of an argument, we suddenly realized that the friend frustrating us is a gift God has given us—and we declared it? What would happen if, in the middle of a routine class or a dull committee meeting, our perspective shifts and we see how this ordinary gathering could be life changing for all involved—and we announced this to everyone? How would this year be different if we recognized how often God nudges us to say, “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you,” or “I want to know you better” and we named those moments? What might happen if we realized that God is with us in our most mundane times at church, work, and home, and learned to express the poetry of that truth to one another?

May we learn to watch, wait, and worship as Anna does, so that we will find our purpose. May we learn to see that God is with us, and may we learn to say so.

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