I’m writing this on the last day of 2017 but you’ll read it on the first day of 2018. Quite the span, or so it feels. Hard to know which side to write for. Maybe better to span the line, straddle the divide, stand in both at once. Hello, goodbye.
This morning, I sat on my couch with my coffee and my quilt reading Ecclesiastes in The Message. It’s one of my many goals for 2018 to read through the Bible again, this time in The Message, Eugene Peterson’s often frustrating but also endlessly fascinating modern translation. Reading in The Message helps me to get out of my head, my trying to decode meaning. It helps me move more lightly through, grasp what’s happening and see throughlines rather than get tangled in language, in poetry, in symbol–which I love but sometimes find cumbersome. In The Message, I get tangled in language in a different way, often feeling at-odds with Peterson’s choice of word, wishing to write it myself instead, wondering if maybe I should. (A project for my forties? Fifties? Seventies?) It will be interesting to try to read the whole book this way. I wonder if I’ll make it or if I’ll get fed up somewhere in March. We will see. The promise of a new year, new things to commit to and put aside. A time to tear and a time to sew.
Here is what I read this morning, on the last day of 2017:
“What was will happen again,
what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
Year after year it’s the same old thing.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, The Message)
Not quite encouraging as we stand in hopefulness at a crack in time, after a year full of injustice and weird people in charge and confusion. That is how every year is. That is how every year will be. Every person, every generation, lives in a world that does not make sense and never will. Like it says in The Message‘s Ecclesiastes 1:15, “Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened, a minus that won’t add up.” No one knows what the heck they’re doing. No one feels 100% safe or sure or calm. We are united with all of history in our flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, making choices that feel uncertain, opening doors to passages what lead somewhere unknown.
Right now we are all reflecting on our year, who we were, what we did, and looking forward to who we want to be and what we want to do. I look back at 2017 and the year feels LONG. For much of it I felt like I was slogging through the same old crap, the same old dragging days. Isaiah and I keep saying that it feels like we can’t catch a break, and honestly it’s possible that this year had more of that than past years. But maybe not! I could look at each year of my adulthood and see multitudes of times when I couldn’t catch a break. When you couldn’t either. Every year the same old thing, nothing new on this earth, under the sun.
So many things happened to me, things I’m surprised at now but that didn’t feel all that surprising at the time, while I was walking through the muck feeling like I couldn’t catch a break. I traveled across the world. I quit jobs and started new ones. I said goodbye to dear friends. I learned things about my past that I didn’t know. I made a TON of quilts and became a pretty dang legit sewist. I decided to start a small business sometime soon. I wrote a lot of blog posts right here. I started journaling again. I bought an expensive sewing machine with my own money. I moved to the woods. I battled anxiety and depression and then got better. I became even better friends with my husband. I wore clothes I made myself. I wept and danced, alone and with others. I said “no” a few times that I should have said “yes.” I talked with God.
None of these things are new things. None of these things have never happened before on this earth. They’re happening all the time to all the people. But here’s where I start to push against Ecclesiastes (or maybe line up with it perfectly). Though none of these things are new in the world, they are new to me. All of life is new to me! Every step, every mile, everything that everyone in all of eternity has had to deal and will always have to deal with is absolutely new to me. Life in its slog is full of freshness, of joy. There are quilts to be made, songs to be heard for the first time, things to discover and uncover and claim as my own that don’t belong to me at all. My life is borrowed, I can say that confidently, and I am endlessly grateful. I stand in the face of my own groanings of “I can’t catch a break” with colorful cotton all stitched together, beautiful music, books to read, things to laugh about with my husband, friends! Life is the same as it’s always been for everyone and I get to try it for myself! Magnificent! That alone makes me hopeful for a new year. That alone makes me thankful for the year past. Nothing new but everything new to me. Every day, hard and soft all at once.
But there’s something else too. The whole time I was reading Ecclesiastes, I kept thinking, but wait! But wait! There, right in Isaiah, and honestly all over the Bible:
“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.”
(Isaiah 43:19, The Message)
Here it is! God is doing a new thing! Something actually new! Something actually paradoxical! It’s the thing at the center of me that feels like fire, the holy mysteries, the part of the world that doesn’t add up and shouldn’t! The things we actually have yet to experience, the things that will literally crack us and our world in half. Roads through the desert, rivers in the badlands, water where there shouldn’t be water at all. We say, “there’s nothing new” and God says, “there is where you’re human, there is where you’re wrong!” God is new, and we get to live in God. 2018 will be another year of this impossible earth, the same as any other, but we, in God, get newness. Fire within us to change us, rip us out of the monotony, show us impossible things that we can’t make resolutions about. God is making the whole earth new, which includes us and our very own souls, the contents of our years, our days. It’s slow and fast, big and small, and we get to be a part of it if we want to, if we are willing to let go of the slog that sometimes feels like the only real thing. I’m not good at this, not at all, but I want to be better. I want to be better at keeping my eyes open, at not dooming myself to things I’m not doomed to at all.
I have resolutions and goals for 2018 like everyone else. I want to write a haiku every day, I want to design new quilts nearly every day too, I want to quit my day job and sew full time, I want to make so much more art and tell more of the stories I have to tell, I want to be more available to the people I love, I want to be stronger and healthier, I even maybe want to become a vegetarian. But I feel reluctant to even commit to these things, to say – “this is my next year, this is what I will make it be.” Instead, I want to open myself up to new-ness. I want to feel everything that happens to me as something fresh, mine. I want to experience life as something beautiful and precious though it isn’t novel or special or unique at all. I want to mark what is new, say it out loud, point at the mysterious things and call them holy, God’s. I don’t want to presume what God will do. My wish for this year is for something new. For things to happen to me that I don’t expect. For angels. For wisdom. For fear and trembling and thankfulness and joy. For more life. I want to hear God say, “Amy, I’m doing a new thing in you,” and, more than anything I want to respond with a whole-hearted, “Yes.”