By Rev. Anna Blaedel
There is a long-standing New Year’s Eve tradition in my family of origin–we do not know how it started, or why, or when–of standing on chairs to recite our resolutions. It’s equal parts hilarious, ridiculous, embarrassing, and vulnerably sincere. It takes no small amount of courage to voice intentions, name longings, commit or recommit to transformative practices. To do so with others invites accountability–not the sort rooted in or laced with shame, judgment, or failure, but the kind that invites us to account for our lives, to give an account of tending to what matters, and why.
As the final days of 2022 unfold into the first days of 2023, as I anticipate climbing up onto a kitchen chair and acting a fool for the sake of sharing in yet another new beginning, another opening into “this one wild and precious life,” four lines from a Mary Oliver poem have been blessing me, startling me, compelling me.
“Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!
Well, there is time left…quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!
Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
Oof. I long to live otherwise.
In the coming year, I want the following four postures and practices to guide my living, and orient my life.
Soften. When I am scared, or hurt, or frustrated, or overwhelmed my instinct is to harden. It’s a self-protective instinct that doesn’t actually protect me. Hardness may leave me, momentarily, feeling safer, but ultimately it separates me from the depth connections with myself, with other lifeforms, and with the world. “A measure of liberation will be found in our capacity for intimacy,” teaches Prentiss Hemphill. “Intimacy,” echoes elyse ambrose, “is openness to encounter.” Building walls and reinforcing borders, whether around hearts or homelands, keep us from the very connections that resource a deeper safety. The soft strength kindled from encountering each other, and softening into collective care. The honest tenderness that breathes fire and fiercely protects what is precious, whatever the risk. “To feel deeply is dangerous,” writes Jarod K. Anderson, “but to do anything else is a tragedy.”
Surrender. So often surrender is associated with conceding defeat, forfeiting hope, succumbing to cowardice. Resistance, defiance, refusal–all rightly valued by those of us committed to fighting status quos of supremacy, and what Kelly Hayes calls “the death cult of normalcy.” Liberation, however, comes from both struggle and surrender. Sometimes loosening our grip on who we think we are and what we think we know about life is a necessary practice of freedom. Surrendering illusions of certainty and control, and offering ourselves generously to wider experiences and wilder dreams. Speculative dreams, creative curiosities, imaginative intimacies, uncertain possibilities–enlivening this sacred web of interdependent, earthly life, raw and indeterminate–beyond our control, but also shaped by our care.
Trust. Mercy, I have a hard time with trust. Betrayals and breaks–they accumulate, and can calcify into distrust, suspicion, and fear. By trust I do not mean pie-in-the-sky naivaté, willful ignorance, or placing oneself at the mercy of untrustworthy systems or people. But I believe there is a deeper wisdom in placing my trust in life, and sacred aliveness, earthly aliveness, entangled aliveness. Moving at the speed of trust, as emergent strategists invite–a much slower, more turbulent temporality than most current expectations or agendas allow. Trusting, not in a particular outcome, but in being trustworthy in the becoming. Trusting in myself, and in my own quirky and imperfect capacities to show up for what and who I love and value. Trusting in those who show up for me because they love and value me, even when they do so imperfectly, because that is what we humans can do. Entrusting each other to each other, with and for each other, and trusting in our collective capacity to become trustworthy.
Compassion. Loving-kindness. Equanimity. Tender generosity, and the genuine attempt to cultivate understanding and sympathy for the hard, heart work required of each of us in order to live well in this time, and place. Compassion for myself, when cruelty comes easier. Compassion for others, when my, or their, hurt, impatience, or frustration flares. Compassion even for those who wish me harm, who threaten what I hold dear, which does not mean tolerating abuse, nor accepting violence, nor excusing oppression, but does mean doing all I can to surrender to a soft and trustworthy longing that you and me and we, each and all and every, may be safe, protected, and free from harm, able to rest with ease, dwell in joy, dream glorious dreams, and intimately encounter so much more than breathing just a little, and calling it a life.
May it be so, in the coming year and beyond.
Anna Blaedel (they/them) is co-director at enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.