Okay, so it’s almost February. I had a hard time choosing my word for this year. My sisters, who are the inspiration for this exercise, and I hung out over the holidays, and we lightly exchanged ideas, but I did not land anything. For a while, I felt pulled toward the word fierce — a word that I use with intention; for example, in my inaugural address. But it seemed like quite a turn-around from my word for 2022, which was gentleness.
Gentleness has served me well, by the way, and during 2022 I built a new relationship with it. Gentleness is powerful, and so badly needed in the world. Kevin and I painted my meditation room a gentle hue named “champagne pink.” I can’t get enough of its softness.
But this is a new year. After wading fiercely through a fog of words over the past few weeks, it struck me one Sunday afternoon that my word for 2023 is clear. I want to be clear in vision, clear of mind and clear in my words.
To be clear takes focus. Did you know that knowledge workers in the United States in 2004 spent on average 2.5 minutes before switching between tasks? And that by 2012, the same scientists using the same methods found that it had dropped to 75 seconds! Seventy-five seconds before checking phone, email, text messages — or my own personal nemesis, switching between open tabs on my web browser.
These alarming statistics are from an essay by Dana Smith, who also recommends a way to rehabilitate and regain your attention span, which is to immerse yourself in a book — a real one on paper — for at least 20 minutes each day. What lovely medicine! I am rereading for the third time the voluminous “Brother Cadfael” mystery series by Ellis Peters, and most evenings now I read for at least 20 minutes in my champagne pink room.
To be clear of mind requires moving through my emotional days without getting mired in them. People often say that to be a leader requires having a thick skin. Well, I’m not that sort of leader. Things get through to me. I feel a lot. And that also means that I am continually practicing ways to move through emotions, to sense them, to shift them, to let them pass.
To be clear means having the courage to speak about the things that matter in words that people understand. Many things that are essential to Goshen College and to me are bound up in words that are fraught these days: liberal arts, faith-based, Mennonite, hope, justice — to name a few. I want to be as clear as I can about these things, and more.
One Sunday afternoon in January, the local men’s vocal group The Open Fifths shared their winter concert that included lots of music and also poetry. (If you’ve not heard them sing, I highly recommend them to you! The group includes many Goshen College alumni, including my spouse Kevin.) Amidst the singing, they read the poem “All We Need is Here,” by Wendell Berry.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
And that’s when it struck me: Clear is my word. Clear in the ancient faith . . . and in eye, clear. May our clearness be gentle or fierce, as needed.Rebecca Stoltzfus
P.S. Curious about my prior words of the year? You can read those posts here: