One of my spiritual practices at the beginning of each new year is to ASK FOR A WORD; a word that will nourish, challenge, lead, and even wrestle me into new growth.
Perhaps you have heard about the Desert Monastics, monks and nuns, ammas and abbas, who retreated into the Egyptian deserts in the third to sixth centuries. Their goal was to live as close to the basics of life as possible. They devoted themselves to fasting and asceticism, in order to concentrate only on God.
In response, others flocked to these Desert Monastics, hoping to receive a WORD to guide them in their daily lives. The word might be a parable, a saying or a lesson, a few words or even one word–guides for pursuing a meaningful life.
We can do the same thing–without making a pilgrimage to the desert.
Here are some ways to open to your word, to discover that guiding word, much like the star guided the Wise Ones to the Christ Child:
- Practice lectio divina as a way to reflect on the past year. Sift through some key experiences of the past year. Big and small. Spend time with one or two of these experiences, remembering them in detail, including the senses. Look back at them as the person you are now. Is there a word or phrase that emerges? Sit with that word. Rest with that word.
- Go for a contemplative walk. The object is not to get somewhere, but to be in the movement, the creation around you. Listen and smell and watch and perhaps even touch. Ask yourself why you decided to turn left, rather than right. If the walk is a familiar one, what feels new? Take a picture of what appeals to you. Be selective. Receive an image. Does a word or phrase emerge? Sit with that word. Rest with that word.
- Listen to your dreams. Keep paper and pen at your bedside, and when you awaken, note what presents itself to you. Before you go to sleep, ask for a word to come to you. Is there a word or phrase that emerges? Sit with that word. Rest with that word.
- Invite your spiritual director or wise elder or loving friend to offer you a word. Have they heard you use a word frequently during the year? Share with them your reflections of the past year and your intentions for the coming year. What do they hear you say? Is there a word or phrase that emerges? Sit with that word. Rest with that word.
- Pay attention to what you read or hear. Are there any themes that keep appearing or specific words? What resonates with you? Does your body react in some way? What emerges? Sit with that. Rest with that.
- Make a collage. Use random pictures from magazines or other sources. Use what appeals to you, resonates with you. When you have completed the collage, notice what emerges. Sit with it. Rest with it. Here is my 2020 collage, which led me to my word for that year, FULLNESS.
Be patient, for here’s the thing. You can’t decide or think your way into the word. You might like the idea of your word being “hope” or “love” or a word that might motivate you to keep a new year’s intention, but as a spiritual practice, it doesn’t work like that.
Your word chooses you.
The word comes as gift.
Receiving This Year’s Word
I read these words:
It is not the words themselves as much as the rhythmical repetition that localizes one in the heart.Richard Rohr
When I read the word “rhythmical” something inside twitched. I felt a glimmer of something. And then the word “rhythm” or words alluding to rhythm kept appearing.
A rhythm that carries us into wholeness.Jan Richardson
Let your heart enjoy a different rhythm.John O’Donohue.
As you listen closely for your deepest call, what are the greater rhythms to which you most accommodate yourself?Christine Valters Paintner
And there were others, as well. I decided to create a collage, and in the box of assorted pictures I keep for that purpose, I found the pieces artist Steve Sorman includes in his Christmas cards every year. I have always intended to do something with them, for they are too gorgeous not to be seen. All of a sudden what I noticed about them was the movement, the flow in each one. Expressions of rhythm.
I arranged them in a large frame I can see both during morning meditation and while working at my desk.
I had received the word for the year: Rhythm.
Allowing the Word to Ripen
I have some idea about the meaning of the word “rhythm” for my life and how it differs from the word “balance,” which has always seemed impossible to achieve, but I know I need to live with the word, stay awake and present to the word, and allow it to
Challenge me, and
Lead and even wrestle me into new growth.
One more thing, a gentle reminder: You don’t need to do anything major or creative or what might be considered HOLY to receive a word. All that is required is an open heart. Ask for a word–and it isn’t too late to do so–and be present and awake.
An Invitation: Do you have a Word for the Year? I would love to know.
NOTE: Thanks to all, especially Abbey of the Arts, but also many others along the way, who have offered guidance and encouragement in the use of spiritual practices to discover and receive a word for the year.