My One Word
A big non-denominational church nearby has an engaging spiritual practice for its members. The practice has such great local word of mouth that it has reached all the way into the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. The practice is called My One Word. More of a spiritual experiment than a polished program, members of the church are invited to pick just one word on which to focus for a year, a word which captures their hopes, their heart for the spiritual journey. Examples include: Joy. Balance. Simplicity. Silent. More. Blameless. Grace. They say: “Lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick one word.”
As I’ve learned about this effort, it struck me that like most good ideas, it’s hardly new. Many traditions find it helpful to focus in this way. Yoga students often select a word to guide their practice, dedicating their efforts to this intention. Practitioners of Centering Prayer and meditative disciplines from other religions invite people to find a word or phrase, a mantra, to which one can return when monkey mind takes over.
I haven’t tried the experiment for a year (yet) but in recent days, my one word has been wisdom. It’s not something that I selected as much as it recently fell in my lap through various passages of scripture. In the Daily Lectionary, we’ve just read about the life and times of Solomon, David’s son. When he took the throne, he had a conversation with God, in which the Holy One asked Solomon what he wanted. He could ask for anything. Blank check.
Solomon, a relatively young monarch, said he wanted the gift of an understanding heart. He asked for wisdom. He realized in his youth and inexperience that he needed help, that he wasn’t able to do his life alone. Wise move. With that in mind, he appealed to a higher power. God honored that request, commending Solomon for knowing what to ask, offering him riches and power as well. (It reminds me of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. I paraphrase: Seek first the kingdom of God and the other stuff will be added.)
Reading Solomon’s story brought to mind the recurrent biblical insight which says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Folks often get stuck on that word “fear,” made all the more complicated by the fact that so much of contemporary religion (not to mention contemporary politics) is fear-based. I’ve come to understand that phrase, the fear of the lord, to reflect the sense of awe in the presence of a power greater than ourselves, something Solomon apparently new.
Then I was reading the New Testament letter to James, a great piece of writing for a Monday Matters crowd. That letter talks about what it means to put faith to work in the world, which may be one way of describing wisdom. It has to do with recognizing God’s greater power. It gets practical, which I guess is one feature of wisdom. It’s about knowing how to hold your tongue. It’s about how we treat each other, especially how we treat people who are poor. (Note a few excerpts from this letter below.)
I’m not entirely sure why wisdom is the word on my mind these days. It may be that discernment, increasing in understanding, is part of what we are called to do all the time. It may be because on this anniversary (9/11), my memories of that blue-sky day make we wonder how we move forward in a world marked by hate. No two ways about it, we all need to grow in wisdom. God places us in communities where we can draw on the wisdom of others. Wise people surround us. Tap into their wisdom. Learn from them.
September is a good season (like New Year’s or the beginning of Lent) to set an intention. If you want to try the experiment, find your one word for days ahead. And if perchance that word is wisdom, be like Solomon and ask God for it.
Blessed are those who know their need of God.
New English Bible
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above…But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
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