For the past two years, my friend Christine has talked on Facebook about finding a word for the year. Instead of setting new year’s resolutions, she chooses a word. The word sets the intention for her year and helps her to focus. She got the idea from Abbey of the Arts. This year, she chose the word open. Or, more likely, the word chose her.
On the same day I saw Christine’s post, I read the Prayer Workshop for the January/February 2015 edition of The Upper Room. Written by Lindsay Gray, The Upper Room‘s managing editor, it, too, is about choosing a word. Lindsay tells the story of her college chaplain writing words on star-shaped cutouts, putting them in a basket, then inviting students to choose a star and use its word as the focus of their day, week, or year. Lindsay’s star held the word contentment, a word that seemed ill-fitting for a lonely, stressed-out, homesick college student. It was only in taking time to ponder the word that Lindsay was able to appreciate its many meanings and see how well it fit her place in life. She writes,
My chaplain’s decision to pass out these stars on Epiphany was no accident. The word epiphany is from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” An epiphany is a moment when a person suddenly sees or understands something in a new or very clear way. Those Epiphany stars invited us to look for new understanding in our lives.
Choosing a word makes a nice new year’s practice, and an awesome Epiphany practice.
Two references to this practice in one day? I’ve gotten good enough at paying attention to know this probably means I should choose a word for 2015. Plus, I love the idea for three reasons:
1. I’m a word person. I’ve recently learned this about myself, though it was probably obvious to those closest to me. I’m a writer after all, so that should have been my first clue. Plus, I love jewelry and artwork that highlight words. In my studio I have the following words or phrases displayed around the walls: peace, justice, modah ani (Hebrew for “I am grateful”), and “Be still and know that I am God.” I have a necklace that says pay attention and another that says be still. I even have a tattoo (more on that in a future post) on my wrist that says hesed (Hebrew for “God’s love”). So choosing a word to set the tone for 2015 just fits.
2. Choosing a word reminds us of the Word made flesh. Before our words there was the Word – the fullest expression of who God is. Genesis tells us that God spoke Creation into being, then used the word good to describe it. And God became human – joining us in language – to help us better understand God and God’s love for us. All that we are – including our words – has its origin in God.
3. Choosing a word requires listening (and you know how much I love listening!). This practice is not really about picking your favorite word or a word that you would like the year to be about. If that were the case I would most likely choose the word chocolate. Instead, it is about listening for the word that is revealed to you through prayer, worship, community, etc. It is about paying attention to the word that God speaks to you. In the first few centuries of the church, the desert fathers and mothers routinely went to their monastic leaders with the request, “Abba (or Amma), give me a word.” The disciples wanted a word to focus on – to guide their spiritual formation – but knew better than to choose it themselves. So they asked their spiritual directors. You may not have a spiritual director, and that’s okay. This practice doesn’t require that you ask your pastor or other person to choose the word for you – though they may be a great resource to help you listen for the appropriate word. The point is to listen and be open for the word that is given to you.
And so I will listen for my word for 2015. Right now I don’t know what that word will be. A kid out of school, family travel, Christmas celebrations, illnesses, etc., mean I haven’t had much time recently to listen and reflect. But now I do, so for the next few days or weeks – however long it takes – I will listen until I hear the word that has been set aside for me this year. When that happens, I’ll share it with you.
In the meantime, I invite you to listen for a word for 2015. Prayer beads are the perfect tool to help you do this. They can help you get quiet and reflect. If you do this, feel free to share your word with us. We’d love to hear it and pray with you as you live into for 2015.
Grace and peace this year, Kristen