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Essay

Next Year’s Words

By January 1, 2014 2 Comments
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At one point in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, the speaker has a rather Dantean meeting with one of his long-dead teachers.  Of course, he is eager to know what his mentor has learned, what wisdom he can offer–but the teacher resists and instead asks forgiveness and urges the speaker adopt a posture of humility as well.  All else, he says, is best forgotten; after all, he reminds his former pupil: 

Last season’s fruit is eaten

And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

2013 was a year where I often found myself struggling for language to confront the loss that came much too frequently.  Or to fully express the joys.  That’s probably true every year–but I felt it quite keenly over the past 12 months.  Inarticulateness reminds us that words are as broken as we are–they are never sufficient unto the day.

So today I don’t want to offer many words.  One of my students last semester structured a paper around a lovely, simple prayer–which she attributed to the Anglican clergyman Morris Maddocks. May it bless you as you begin 2014.

Lord, I offer you myself this day

For the work you want accomplished,

For the people you want me to meet,

For the word you want to be uttered,

For the silence you want to be kept.

For the places you want me to enter,

For the new ways you want pioneered.

Go with me along the way, Lord,

And enable me to realize your presence,

At all times and in all places,

My loving Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

2 Comments

  • Nick Kroeze says:

    Thank you, Jennifer, for getting my new year off with the simple but oh-so-very-true words you shared. These basic things are often the deeper things that deserve our attention–and our hearts. Blessings to you (and all) in this new year.

  • Ed Bruinsma says:

    Very short and simple. It yet it is profound and covers a we could ask for.

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