The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of the year in 2023 was “authentic.”
I’m not surprised.
Merriam-Webster publishes the annual “word” from among the most looked-up within a given year, filtering out more common five-letter words that appear in countless games and crossword puzzles.
In 2023, with the arrival of popular AI apps (like Chat GPT and Google’s Bard), a surge in charges of fake news, and a rise in “deepfake” photos in news and media, it seems there was a big increase in the interest for what is real, true, and even—if it exists—original. We all have to ask ourselves, more and more it seems: “Is that the real thing?”
But I don’t think a search for what is authentic was limited to 2023, or even any recent decade or century. I believe it is deep within the human longing.
The origin myth in Genesis portrays a devastating impact on human beings’ capacity for authenticity. Those first humans—having lived together in the garden with total transparency, both knowing and being fully known—are jolted into a different dynamic after eating that forbidden fruit. They hide and they blame. Covering nakedness, pointing fingers elsewhere in their guilt and shame, they play out a demise of authenticity on those pages. One might read all the pages of Hebrew and Christian Scripture that come after with that loss of vulnerability, transparency and authenticity in mind.
Dr. Brad Reedy, an author and psychotherapist whose work has been important to me and many others, recently posted on Instagram: “To be seen and loved just as we are is so sublime, the best word we have for it is heaven; it’s so rare and beyond our daily experience, we imagine it above us in the clouds. To be seen and loved… I can think of nothing more powerful. It changes a life…and then it changes lives.”
Perhaps the authentic is a big part of what we long to recover in the human quest.
I’m here for it. Are you? What does it look like when we are seeking to be honest, real, and really authentic with one another?
We do not know all that 2024 will bring, nor what “word” will belong to the year ahead. But we can carry forward a desire for authenticity – in ourselves, in others, and in church or other circles to which we belong. We can seek to be ourselves, to be loved and embraced—and to love and embrace—just as we all are. This is deep in the heart of what healthy community can be. It is the gift that we can give to one another, as God gives this gift of unconditional love and belonging to us.
Walking with you,
The Rev. R. Scott Painter, Rector