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Next Year’s Words

By January 1, 2014 2 Comments

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 am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. 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 also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • 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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