The idea of using a singular thought, idea, or word as a focus or guiding principle for one’s life has been around for centuries.
After the exodus of many European religious to the Egyptian desert in the fourth century, pilgrims and seekers would approach the Abbas and Ammas, (the desert Fathers and Mothers), in search of knowledge and wisdom and ask them to “give me a word!”
Practitioners in the helping professions sometimes ask clients to describe their situation or how they feel in just one word as a means of getting to the heart of the matter and discerning what’s most important at the moment.
I happened onto the Star Word version of this during my last year as a pastor when I was looking for a special way of marking Epiphany, the story of the Magi journeying to visit the Christ Child. (For more about that, click here to visit the blog of my colleague Rev. Marci Glass.)
Using the star the Wise Ones followed as a tangible symbol I got cardstock stars, printed words on them and placed them in a basket at the front of the sanctuary. During worship on Epiphany (January 6, or the Sunday closest thereto) I had each person bring their offering forward, then draw a Star Word from the basket.
I invited them to spend time thinking about their word over the course of the year, to investigate its usage and definitions, see where it turned up in the scriptures, pray over it, pay attention to what the word itself prompted in them when they read it and what if anything the Holy One might be speaking to them through their word.
I’ve gotten a Star Word every year since. I’ve been skeptical at times (and even unhappy!) with some of my words, and yet it’s always been a thought-provoking, enlightening, instructional, and deeply meaningful spiritual exercise.
My word for 2019 is “quiet”.
I laughed out loud when I saw it.
I found it amusing, hilarious even, that I - the person who’s just spent the last year “putting myself out there” on social media with a website, blog, Facebook, and Instagram - would receive the word “quiet”. (Who says the Universe doesn’t have a sense of humor??)
It’s even more curious because of my circumstances. As a widow, I’m alone a great deal of the time; almost all of my days are spent in solitude and quiet. Does receiving “quiet” as my word this year mean I need even more quiet?
Or might it mean I need to focus on the quiet that is already there in a more intentional way, and be more mindful of what I allow to fill that time and space?
Eating alone is one of the hardest things for me about being widowed so I usually have the TV on at mealtime. Hearing human voices, (even if it’s only the TV), makes the process of preparing and eating meals seem less lonely. But after having a few days to reflect on my word and the questions it’s already prompted, I am rethinking that practice, particularly in the mornings. I want to stay informed and engaged in the world; it’s a responsibility I take seriously. But I’m not sure the news - with its seemingly endless litany of what blew up, burned down, or crashed, who got shot, stabbed, or robbed, and where in the metro area I live in traffic is jammed (which is pretty much everywhere) – is the best way to do that.
These are the questions occupying my mind at the moment, but I have a whole list of others. There’s lots more to come on this!
What about you? Have you ever used this idea and had a focus word for the year?
What was that like?
Just curious: If “quiet” were your word for this year, what questions would that word prompt for you?
If you have a word for 2019, I’d love to hear your first impressions and what (if anything) you’re seeing, hearing and experiencing in your first few days with it.
And if you don’t have a word for 2019 and would like one, just ask, and I’ll draw one for you.