Each year between Christmas and New Year’s, I lean in close to discover my word for the year ahead. Last year a scripture caught hold of me hard and I thought for sure that my word was embedded within it. It was Isaiah 43:19, and I scribbled it on an index card and affixed it to my bathroom mirror, where it remained and encouraged me through the whole of 2020.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Who could deny that something new and unexpected was in process this year? Though it was hard, I hope we will look back and see the beginnings of what God is growing in us in this time. Still, back then I hoped my word would be ‘spring’ – I was ready for momentum and forward motion in a few places in my life. As I described last year, the word God was actually giving me was a much slower one: walk. And walk I did, miles through the pandemic spring, walked through the process of shifting my preschool music classes online, walked through the changes of schedule, routine, relationships, and more. No, this year wasn’t a race – it really was more of a slog and there was no ‘springing’ to be had, but I believe we’re walking in newness nonetheless, even with baby steps.
This year, a new scripture has caught my attention, and it’s Isaiah 61. It’s too long to post here but I hope you’ll look it up. It’s all about newness, anointing, rebuilding, healing, liberty, and a year of favor after hard times. Doesn’t that sound amazing? It was a prophecy about Jesus, of course, but it also speaks to me about how God uses us to bring grace to a waiting world, with descriptions of the earth bringing forth all that had been planted, with justice and praise springing up like a garden. Ah, it sounds like just what we need.
But the word that had been calling out to me made its presence known weeks before, as I stood in front of the Mary statue at my chapel on a walk and gave my dear ones to her care, asking her to protect them in her mantle. I picture my son on Mary’s right and my daughter on her left, and I just ask her to help and guide them, wrapping them up in light and care. I’ve done this forever, but something on that day asked me to pay attention to occasions when I might hear one particular word in the future.
And I did.
The word mantle has many definitions. It can mean the kind of loose cloak Mary and others in her time wore, or a role or responsibility that passes from one person to another. In a geological sense, the mantle of the earth absorbs heat from the core and distributes it to the planet’s crust, driving plate tectonic movements which cause volcanoes and earthquakes. A mantel of a different spelling, though with the same word origin, refers to the beam or masonry that supports the load above a fireplace. So, which of these speaks to me about 2021? In some ways, all of them.
I know God is calling me to experience the care of being wrapped in the mantle of Mary as a mother and guide. Since losing my Mom, Mary has become a mother to me in very real ways and I find I can rest in her as a strong and fearless mama who takes care of me and mine.
I also feel the responsibility of a mantle of sorts being passed to me and others in my generation. I’ll turn fifty this year (what?! I know, I can’t believe it either), and my eyes have been opened to ways we can and must use our voices and energy toward making positive change in a broken church and world. I want to use my gifts to help others feel heard and seen this year. In part that means connecting more with God in order for Him to work through me, becoming a conduit of sorts like that geological ‘mantle’, helping in my own small way to move things that seem immovable.
That last definition, the one that refers to a beam above a fireplace, has resonance in its use in Isaiah 61. Depending on the translation of the Bible you’re reading, you might read about a “mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting”. That supporting beam of joy over fear is one I hope is reflected in my life in the year to come. And in another translation, you’ll find a reference to a mantle as the clothing we could never purchase for ourselves:
“I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”
In 2021, I’m holding out open hands to God and letting Him cover and fill me. We’ve all learned a lot about our utter lack of control in this past year, but in its wake, I hope we bring an openness to how God will fill us, wrap us, and dress us for the year to come, the doors He’ll open, the opportunities He’ll provide, with buckets of light at our feet to illumine our path. After all, His ways really are above our ways. His plans really are better than ours. And, see, He’s doing something new. It’s sprung up, do you not perceive it? He’s making a way in this wretched wilderness. In 2021, may each one of us find ways to help that newness grow, and to walk in the way He made us, see where it leads.