Relay

Original Photo by Kerry Campbell

As I have for some time now, I’ve been prayerfully considering my word for the year ahead.  Last year, the word came to me in a flash: mantle. In all its forms, it just kind of fit and the word has really held up throughout this past year.  The year before, it was ‘walk’, when all I wanted to do was run, and specifically ‘spring’ ahead. The idea was taken from the scripture in Isaiah that’s all about seeing the new thing that God is doing which is springing forth, making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  And as I look back, God was in fact doing at least a couple of very big new things, in that very miraculous way He has of making something from nothing.  He is so good like that.

This year, too, a scripture made its way to me before the word arrived.  Mary’s Magnificat sang in my ears and with it her astute clarity about the moment she was in.  Mary gave honor to the past and God’s movement in it, and she made a prediction about the future that would have seemed like the precocious boast of an obscure teenage girl had it not been proven undeniably true: as it turned out, all generations would call her blessed.  In her Magnificat, Mary said,

 “My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

It’s amazing, isn’t it? In these beautiful and powerful words, Mary is looking back and she’s looking ahead but her feet are grounded solidly in the present moment.  She knows who she is, and she knows the work that she is called to do.  In her Magnificat, Mary gathers in every nation, all of God’s people, and all of time as she proclaims the greatness of the Lord.  The words are so revolutionary that in the last century, they were banned from being recited in public by the governments of India, Guatemala, and Argentina, because God’s preferential option for the poor that Mary describes was considered subversive and dangerous. The Magnificat stirred up the impoverished masses, leading them to believe that change was, in fact, possible. These are good words for our time as well.

It is so easy for us to consider our lives through the lens of how we’re feeling today, or how our dear ones are doing, or in the context of our plans or goals for this month, this year, or five years from now.  Mary somehow elevates her view to a God-perspective, top-down, seeing her one small life in the context of the great plan of God.  We can do this, too.

This week, I ended a run on a track near my home.  I’m coming back from an injury and the track surface is easier on me, so I finish up there in as many loops as I need to complete my goal.  And on that day, I circled around toward a massive light pole that houses twenty-three large bulbs on it. And I know this is weird, but as I approached it, I felt the presence of the saints, those great “lights” who’ve gone before, and specifically the women in my family whose existence and perseverance had led me to that particular point in history.  Suddenly, I felt profound gratitude for the women who fought through much harder trials than I have ever faced, who lived in America or Ireland or Scotland or who knows where, who raised children who would become fellow branches in my family tree, and who learned lessons that set up the next generation to get a bit farther each time.  Because of what they did, the sacrifices they made, and their many decisions and choices, most of which I could only guess at, I had the freedom on that precise day to run around a track while musing my word of the year. 

In my next run that week, I ran past the bleachers and there I felt them again, these generations of women standing up and cheering for me to keep going, to keep advancing in this short window of my own race.  They, and in fact every person who had ever taught or encouraged me in any way in my lifetime, had handed me a baton and in that moment, I had clarity around what I was expected to do with it.  Run in such a way as to hand it on.

Finding my word for 2022 was much more difficult than it had been in previous years.  I saw the concept as a picture in my mind’s eye, but couldn’t zero in on a specific word.  I knew that I wanted to be centered and grounded like Mary and magnify God with my life as she did.  I want to gather in the past with gratitude and look to the future with hope as she did in her Magnificat. I have a sense of a kind of timeline, a bird’s eye view of my life that has me thinking about words like ‘liminal’, ‘threshold’ or ‘clock’. It does feel like we’re in a major shift in so many ways, doesn’t it, friends? But I also have such fullness in my heart for the generations who came before and those that will follow, in my own family but also in that very real way in which wisdom is passed on, one to another, how each generation advances, hopefully, a bit from the one before. 

As I write these words, it’s 11:02pm on Thursday, December 30, 2021, and there’s not a soul alive who knows what the next year will bring.  We can guess, we can plan, we can hope, but by now we’ve learned, or at least I hope we have, that we can’t know the future. It’s unpredictable, maybe more so than we ever thought, and that can make it hard to choose a word or make a plan in work or school or a million other areas, but still, we have to try.  Grounded in the present moment, we can gather in what we know and what’s been given to us and do our bit to advance ourselves, our families, our church, our society, and our world just a little bit if we can. We can take what’s been taught to us and teach it to someone else, use the good that’s been poured into us in this and past generations to serve our brothers and sisters to help them move forward, too.  We can experience the light of the living God and of His saints, and let that light drive us on in the short time we’re given. When it comes down to it, that light is the only thing that can.

And all of that to say that my word for 2022 is ‘relay’.  I’ve always longed to know whether the race of my life is a marathon or a sprint, but in this year I’m mindful of my short stretch and I want to do the best I can to hold the baton for this leg. I love the team connotation of ‘relay’ because we really are all in this together as a human race, each of us doing our part. I love the alternate definition of relaying – the passing on of information or a message or wisdom or grace, as that is literally what I’m trying to do with this podcast and in my other ministries.  I even love the definition of the mechanical sort of relay, that is a conduit from one power source to multiple recipients.  Ah, I do love a metaphor, friends. 

But I hope this word will remind me in these uncertain times that my only job is to hold what I’ve been given and try to advance it a bit further than it was before.  That’s it.  Just run the best I can and then hand it off – to the next generation in my family, yes, but also to you who are reading these words, and to anyone else whose path crosses mine this year.  That’s my only job, just my leg of the race, right now, and that feels right for me for 2022.  

And so, friend, how about you?

Thanks so much for reading and I pray a blessed 2022 for you and yours!  If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites, or at the Raised Catholic Podcast, wherever you like to listen.  If you’d like to financially support this blog or the podcast by throwing a few bucks my way, you can do that on my page at buymeacoffee.com.  Thanks so much for your support, prayers, and encouragement, friends. See you next year!

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