On New Year’s day, we usually go for a walk, pondering a theme of watchword for the coming season. This year I did not expect any new directions, but rather a “resit”. My word for 2023 was “simplicity” - if anything, life has got more complicated!
During my annual reflections, I noticed that I never worked out what simplicity could look like in practice. I have always struggled to remember what I cannot picture, so I decided to look for an image to connect me with 2024.
When we arrive on Butser Hill, the highest hill in our area, I first close my eyes, remembering photographer Paul Sander’s recommendation to shut out visual cues to get a better sense of one’s surroundings. All I can hear is the traffic whizzing past on the motorway down below in the valley. We have been up and down that road many times, travelling to Havant, Hayling Island, Portsmouth and beyond.
When I open my eyes and look around, I notice the valleys and hills that are separating us from the silver patches of the sea on the far horizon. The landscape reminds me of the ups and downs and unknowns encountered in 2023. The road is rarely level and straightforward - the most joyful and encouraging times still had their challenges, difficulties, and frustrations. Conversely, there were glimpses of light even in times of darkness. As usual, there were events I did not anticipate this time last year. (I have learned that it is not helpful to know too much – otherwise I may never step out in the first place!)
When I am on the motorway, I may get me to my destination much faster, but speed comes at a cost. Apart from a quick glance up Butser Hill, whose radio mast is a reassuring landmark that helps me find my bearings, I do not notice the nuances in the landscape and how the sky is changing. All I notice is what other drivers are doing. I do not see the big picture.
A phrase pops into my mind as I try to focus my attention away from the incessant noise of the speeding cars to the silent landscape: “Step out of the traffic...”
I know I have read it in one of the paraphrases of the bible. When I google it, I discover it is Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 46:10: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” (The Message Bible)
While the whole verse speaks to me (I often feel overwhelmed by the barrage of bad news from around the world), the first phrase is particularly relevant right now.
Unless I learn to slow down and be present, I will miss God and what is going on around me and inside me.
I also believe that creativity requires out-of-the-box thinking. I cannot simply follow what other people are doing or what I think they may be expecting of me if I want my creative gifts to have the maximum impact.
I also function much better when I take the time to reflect and digest. Last year has also shown me the benefit of taking things slowly rather than rushing towards the finish line.
So I am looking at different areas of my life to see how and where the watchword (or rather watchphrase) could be applied:
Who knows, I may learn something about simplicity in the process...