Spiritual journey: A word

with thanks to Margaret Simon for hosting the Spiritual Journey writers on the first Thursday of the year

Perhaps you’re in the the habit of choosing a focus word at the outset of each year. A word like simplify or savor (these have been my “one little word” in the past). The general idea is that the word serves as a filter for viewing and processing daily life. It’s meant to enrich and inspire, to make you notice more, extract more.

A well-chosen word has power. Writers know this.

As I contemplate the power of a single word being a tool for the spiritual journey, two things come to mind: A story and a song.

Since childhood I’ve loved The Chronicles of Narnia. I reread the books every few years. In The Magician’s Nephew children from our world find their way (accidentally) into a dusky world that seems to be devoid of life. The sun, much bigger and older than ours, is weary and blood-red. Clearly there has been life, for the kids find a castle and eventually a gallery of people wearing royal finery, seated in chairs along the walls. They are like wax figures, a complete mystery to the children, who go on to have a disagreement and (unfortunately) set deep magic to work (after falling prey to a psychological enchantment. You must read the book for the full effect; in all best fantasies psychology and wisdom are more powerful than ‘magic’). The children inadvertently awaken the last figure in the great hall, who rises to meet them. Jadis (whose name appears to be a combination of long ago or there are days before and witch) is the last queen of Charn, this desolate place. She confesses to usurping the throne by overthrowing her sister at the end of a bloody civil war. Jadis didn’t win this war. Instead, she destroyed all living things in that world except herself by using the Deplorable Word, an ancient and feared secret for which she paid a “terrible price” to obtain.

One word.

Shall we move onto the song?

Martin Luther, the force behind the Reformation, composed the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” between 1527 and 1529. Consider his third verse:

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,—
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,—
One little word shall fell him.

“One little word”… puts an end to Satan and evil. What might this all-powerful word be? Scholars say Luther’s hymn draws from Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Might the one little word be Truth? As in Luther’s words, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us? As in Be still and know the truth of God in Psalm 46? As in If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free, the words of Christ, John 8:31-32? Or one little word as in the Word, John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…all things were made through him…in him was life and the life was the light of men…the darkness has not overcome it…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…?

I circle back to rest on this premise: There’s spiritual power in a single word.

The greatest battles of life are, after all, spiritual. We struggle with truth. Consider Pilate’s words to Jesus, awaiting judgment in the hall of his palace fortress: Quid est veritas…What is truth?

Truth is, evil abounds. It reigns in destruction, in violence, in hungry power-grabs (i.e., Jadis; in the end, is truth not the inherent value of fiction?). And we hardly need more proof that words matter, as we continue to witness the destructive consequences of bullying on society.

We desperately need an anti-Deplorable word, do we not. One that edifies, helps, and heals. If it is not Truth, then maybe Forgive. Or Bless. Would we be about destruction, if we are actively harnessing the power of these words?

I come at last to my one little word for the past two years, which has served me better than any other.

Awe.

It has several definitions and facets, some of which contrast. It encompasses wonder, reverence, and fear. I sense all of these in Luther’s words. In Psalm 46. Awe is rooted in the realization—the truth—that our existence is part of something far greater than ourselves. Psychologists say that sense of awe has a powerful effect on our well-being. When the idea of awe as my own “one little word” came to me in 2020, I wasn’t even looking for it. I was tired. My husband was still recovering from two heart surgeries following cardiac arrest and resuscitation; COVID-19 was spreading across the planet. I didn’t feel like playing with words.

The word came anyway.

In these two years, rolling into three, my husband lived to officiate our son’s marriage, to see the birth of our granddaughter, Micah, and to see our oldest graduate from seminary and enroll in a PhD program (our same boy who said he’d never marry, have children, or go in the ministry). The youngest has graduated, is flourishing in his funeral career of serving and comforting the bereaved (our same boy who, as a toddler, was fascinated by the wise men of the nativity narrative and especially myrrh…which is used in preparing the dead for burial). Our oldest granddaughter has skipped first grade and is thriving in second. Micah, now fifteen months old, picks up books and mimics the prosody of reading; she opens hymnals and sings in her own way. Everywhere I turn, awe abounds. It reaches out every single day from nature itself…this is why I write of birds and the stars so often.

It’s even in my dreams. Last night I dreamed of a bright-eyed bird burrowing in leaves and pine straw that had gathered at the edge of my door. While I am prone to researching such symbolism until I exhaust myself, I’d see it as awe coming to live at my portal, always waiting for me to open myself to it. This much I know: awe has been a very real entity, a Presence.

Most definitely my guide on the spiritual journey.

The duality of slow

In my recent reading
I have encountered
the duality
of slow…

educators know
DEVOLSON:

Dark
Evil
Vortex
Of
Late
September
October
November

a mysterious force
an epicenter
impacting
gravity,
functionality

(=dark matter:
a nonluminous material
causing several effects
in space)

yet in my reading
I also stumble
across the word
Slowvember:

an admonishment
an acknowledgement
that one cannot possibly
do all the things
well

so one might as well
choose to act
vs. being acted upon

a recognition
a submission
a slowing of the pace
even at the edge
of holidays
brimming
glimmering

they are,
after all,
celebrations
of light
(=holy-days)

allow me
an antidote
in an anagram
or two:

DEVOLSON…
Solved? No.
Do novels.

Carve the time
vs. letting it
carve you

nourish
your inner light

it is only flickering
not snuffed
enough is enough

-evil? No.
A divine pull
to the gift
of slow.

slow down, slow down, slow… Victor BezrukovCC BY-NC 2.0.

with thanks to Chris Margocs for the DEVOLSON inspiration

Expectations

As a literacy coach and intervention team facilitator, I am tasked with communicating expectations of my administration and the district to my colleagues. It’s a tricky position (correction: these are tricky positions. Plural. Sometimes I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins, wearing 500 hats). At present, my fellow educators are, in the wake of COVID, undergoing state-mandated Science of Reading training while adjusting to new curriculum and new leadership. It all comes with new expectations.

Truth be told, however, many of these expectations aren’t new: Problem-solving as a professional community, finding what we need as educators to give the students what they need. Bridging gaps. Collaborative planning. Collective responsibility. None of these are new; they just feel new if they’ve not been done effectively before…the bottom line being the determination of this is what the kids really need; how do we make it happen?

It’s formidable challenge, in a time where there are many needs, and when educational philosophies, beliefs, and mindsets clash. I recently wrote about endurance (from a spiritual point of view). This new school year follows one of extreme exhaustion. We will not endure without leaning on one another. We will not build our strength in isolation. We will not succeed without stamina. Or vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Grappling with expectations is, well, expected. Everything, everything, everything rests on one of two beliefs: it can be done or it can’t.

I believe it can.

Yesterday my granddaughter visited. The hummingbird feeder rings I ordered for us had just arrived. Perfect timing. We took them out of the package, washed them, made a tiny batch of sugar water, and filled them. Off to the yard we trotted to stand with our arms resting on the fence near one of my two feeders where a handful of hummingbirds compete for their nectar throughout the day.

You can see for yourself, in the photo, my granddaughter thinking I don’t know about this…yet there’s a layer of hope and fear in her expression: Will the hummingbirds actually come drink from my ring? Will I be scared?

After a while: How long is this going to take?

The secret, my love, is patience and persistence. If it doesn’t work the first time, we will try again, and again. Hummingbirds have come to drink from the rings of other people in other places; they will eventually do so with us. Keep trying. Believe. I will stand with you until it does.

Oh, right.

I started off talking about teaching, didn’t I.

Expression of uncertain expectation. After she left, I went out again when the hummers were more active. A couple of them hovered nearby, considering me and my outstretched, ringed hand (hummingbirds are highly intelligent and curious). If they come to me…they will come to my granddaughter. I will see if can make it happen for her.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Filling the bucket

Bucket of Sunshine. gfpeck. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power.  – Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium

At my school this year, every staff member is writing notes of encouragement and gratitude for each other. We are calling this “filling each other’s bucket” – everyone has a colorful designated bag for receiving the written messages.

I couldn’t think of better symbolism than this bucket of dandelions. Or the quote.

All too often, we never realize the collective abundant strength and power we have.

It is in the giving that we begin to experience it.

Charged

The first gathering
before regular workdays
even begin
is a Leadership meeting
called by new admin
to set the vision
for the year ahead
where lingering clouds
so widespread
start dissipating.
The atmosphere is changed
from June, when we left
depleted and drained:
All my colleagues’ faces,
all their voices and words,
shaking off residual traces
of drenching despair
in this positive charge
electrifying the air.

It can be done.
We have begun.

Explosion of positive energy. Łukasz StrachanowskiCC BY-NC 2.0.