The ancient spiritual desert dwellers called Ammas, or Abbas, received people who sought them out, and were met with a plea: “Amma, give me a Word!” The Words that came, as they have been collected and handed down, usually came in in a sentence or two, very general, very abstract sometimes, but possibly right to the point of the seekers deepest longing:
- We carry ourselves wherever we go and we cannot escape temptation by mere flight, Amma Matrona
- Salvation is exactly this–the two-fold love of God and of our neighbor, Amma Syncletica
- It is good to give alms for people’s sake. Even if it is done only to please others, through it one can begin to seek to please God, Amma Sarah
I know that many of my friends find it helpful to choose a Word for an entire year that then becomes the plumb line for their discernment and aspiration. Yet, my life and times seem to defy the boundaries of just one word in a year; too many things change, too much is added, too much slips away. So I need to find a Word for the moment in which I find myself. And I am finding it as I go, in many places, forms and tones.
These days I am wishing for a Word, weekly, daily, hourly. There are so many words in the atmosphere–media, conversations, blogs, podcasts, billboards, sermons, radio chatter. The first challenge is to filter out the words that do not fit me or belong to me. I am aware that there is so much information and opinion out there that is not necessary for me, sometimes is even harmful. So the Word I am seeking is one that grounds, nourishes and directs me.
I am hearing it most often these days in poetry:
- from Bonnie Thurston: We are all healed/in passive voice/and from the inside out.
- from Belleruth Naparstek: My heart is pierced with gratitude.
- from David Monteith: Breathe, then share your thoughts/ like paper lanterns on the /river of your breath.
Sometimes it comes in sacred text or liturgy:
- lift heavy sorrow
- forgive. forgive yourself.
- speak the truth in love!
And then there is the Art–from Pompeii before Vesuvius, from our nation Black artists from the 60s forward. There is the natural world–roses abloom again, the ocean, calm and clear, the tree on the block with one branch of red leaves amidst all the green of the rest. These are wordless, yet full of the Word!
So I am learning to look, listen, attend to the Word for the moment whenever and wherever I find myself. These Words came this morning:
- Pope John XXIII: See everything; overlook a great deal; correct little.
- Rachel Naomi Remen: May I trust that the way You have made me is the way that is needed.
Those words will get me through this day, possibly tomorrow and a few days after that! The Word is very near! Look, Listen, Open my heart!