Intentions!

The New Year is just over a week old and already those New Year resolutions feel so old that I can barely recall them. January 1st. started off with such great intentions but today I have trouble facing them head on! Maybe next New Year I will do better and make it into the third week before forgetting! It’s a strange thing that we can only make resolutions at the beginning of a year and never during its course. Why would I wish to change this habit? The illustration above is by Lonni Sue Johnson from the book Parables of Kierkegaard edited by Thomas C. Oden. It accompanies Kierkegaard’s parable about the man who walks backwards while all along looking face on at the one from whom he is walking thus giving the appearance that his intention is to come to the person while actually walking away! The more he walks the greater he has to express intention but the only result is despondency.

Take a moment to ponder the poem Susceptibilities by Scott Cairns. Although the poem raises the question of attention versus intention, his words are provocative and demanding to us the reader in how we live and act.

Susceptibilities

The child’s face was heartbreaking, so I turned
the television off before my own
attentive daughter could notice how ill
the girl was, before Elizabeth saw
what I had seen in the girl’s dull eyes: vast

weariness, proximate death. I don’t know.
I don’t know. This sort of thing is always
available no matter how many times
one turns off the news, or turns away from
whatever most recent token rises

to insist, albeit powerlessly, on some notice.
Well, I’d give all my attention
to the girl, or her brothers, or her frail
people, if attention did anything.
But you don’t need me to tell you how vain

attention proves alone, and good intentions, those
few earnest conversations we savor
with our black coffee after a big meal.
Awareness may prove nothing more or less
than complicity. So I keep turning

my daughter away from what goes on with
vengeance just one or two countries over,
across town, or next door, or here
in my own numb heart. She’s a bright, discerning
child, and she would ask too many questions.
(from Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems Scott Cairns)
Prayer:
Holy God,
I utter a prayer,
speak your name,
hope in your truth,
depend on your grace,
and delight in your promise of love.
Yet still I offer
many intentions,
to do better,
to pray more earnestly,
to forgive more generously,
to cease making judgments.
Forgive all the sharp edges
of my humanity.
Smooth these edges with
grace and forgiveness.
Hear this my prayer. Amen.

One thought on “Intentions!

  1. I intended to respond earlier, but didn’t get it done. Yesterday I intended to dust, but didn’t. And worst of all, I intended to freeze a large blueberry muffin rather than eat it, and not only did I eat most of it, but I ate most of it still frozen! And so now I ponder the meaning of the word as I read this poem. One of my favorite tools for reading, writing and thinking is the Thesaurus and when I see the options for “intention” I see words that make perfect sense such as goal and purpose. But they somehow don’t suffice for fully defining intention. Intention implies to me a likelihood of inaction, at least given my experiences with my own. Maybe the risk is too great to make resolutions more than once a year. Maybe we know we won’t uphold promises to ourselves and that feels bad. I did enjoy the poem and re-read it several times only to discover how easily with a few changes it could become a poem about the pandemic…”the scenes from the hospitals were heartbreaking”.

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