In her poem, “Hurry,” Marie Howe tells of an epiphany she had with her young daughter and the pace of their life:
We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.
I think of this poem often, not simply when I find myself trying to rush our boys out the door to this place or that, but in my own life and work. Where is it that we learn the maddening pace of life, and learn it so well? Why is it that I feel like I’m constantly moving and yet not getting nearly as much done as I feel I should? Who is watching me and learning these rhythms? One of my hopes for the New Year is to interrogate these tendencies and expectations of hurry I internalized somewhere along the way. Audrey and I are discussing how we might better do this as a family, too, because it’s almost impossible to make significant changes to the rhythms of our lives without the support of those with whom we dance.
What would it mean to start with what’s most important to us—the convictions, the relationships, the institutions, the activities that give us life—and fill in the remainder with all the other, lesser things, instead of the other way around? What would have to change? Of what would we have to let go?
These questions are at the heart of what the church means by “repentance,” although we scarcely talk of it in these terms. Repentance means “a change of heart,” or “a turning in a different direction.” It means making a clear and decisive shift in how we live and think and act.
This may be a helpful way to approach our scripture lesson today of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John. Luke tells us the baptism John offers was a “baptism of repentance for the forgiving of sins,” but the church has mostly steered clear of saying Jesus needed to be forgiven. But seen through this lens of "making a decisive change," Jesus clearly did repent. He left his quiet and anonymous life in Nazareth and began a ministry that would change the course of history. Our own baptism will surely be of a different scale than Christ’s, but many of us can look back as see they put us on a different course. And if we’re living a life of faith, our baptisms won’t be the only one of these moments of decision and clarity. There will be, and should be, many others. Perhaps this year will bring one for you. And perhaps someone will be watching.