I tried to explain to him this practice of choosing one word to name the New Year. “It helps me keep focused on the important things,” I said. “Keeps me moving in the right direction.”
He sat at the table in his wheelchair, moving clothespins from one side of a stretching wire to the other, and wondered out loud what word would name this past year. This year of desert time, of doctors and surgeries, therapists and injections, of fighting for breath and sleepless nights …
Behind him, a family member offered a word—a tongue-in-cheek, under-the-breath obscenity. And it seemed an apt name to label all this struggle. We chuckled and said, “Good riddance” to the year we are shedding and he grew silent in the wake of laughter. And I felt the power of that one word—the power of the naming—roll over me like a wave.
How do we step out of the shadow of the past and into the light of the future? How do we name the future good?
I mean, really? Because I can offer words and names and platitudes; verses that encourage and beautiful pictures, staged for the snapping of the shutter. But will these words give life? Will these images breathe Spirit and oxygen into a life wrung out dry from the living? I need to know. I need the answer. Because so much of this buzzing about is leaving me empty inside.
What do I have to give in the midst of this broken-down, bruised-up, twisted world? This past year we’ve wrestled depression and anxiety, uncertainty about the future, major transitions and milestones; the dog died and I wrecked the car; I wrote a book and wrestled with disillusion in the process; the kids pulled away and the youth group dissolved; we floundered with community and our church limps along; we’ve said these words: “life is too short,” over and over and over to one another and still stand helplessly by, wringing our hands in doubt.
I’ve held out Jesus to the ones I love and the ones I care for in this fallen country and too often, no one will take Him from my hands. I grow tired from holding out this Living Word—heavy and soaked through with moistened breath. Again and again I take what I offer to others and pour it over my own head—great scoops of Living Water running in rivulets down my skin.
This is real—this Baptism, this Word, this naming. But … how? How do I rip the scales from cloudy eyes that do not see?
Madeleine L’Engle says that when we name each other, we are sharing in the joy and privilege of incarnation. And this is what I need today. Incarnation. These words need a body to live in.
The name, it gives form; it embodies what already is. But, unless I live what already is, the name … the words I offer, they fall empty on deaf ears. Grace says that Jesus doesn’t need me to do anything for the Word to work in a heart. But until I live into the goodness of the Incarnation, I am left holding heavy words. Who would want to receive such a burden?
So New Year’s Day falls fast and hard and this morning my youngest asks me, “Have you found your word for the year yet, mom?”
No, I say. Maybe I’m supposed to keep living last year’s word? But how do you know, he asks. How do you know when you find the right word? You just do, I tell him. You recognize it in your spirit.
So I turn my attention to the morning reading and this is what it says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”—Matthew 5:16
Barclay tells me there are two Greek words for “good”. There is the word agathos, which means something is good in quality, and there is the word kalos, which means that a thing is not only good but that it is also captivating and beautiful and attractive. Kalos is the word used in Matthew 5.
When I read these words, something resonates in my spirit and I know I’ve found my word. Because, isn’t this incarnation? To live the kind of good that captivates? This is what I have to give in the midst of this broken-down, bruised-up, twisted world: Shine. This is the only way the words we name this world with can take on breath. When the darkness filters in or floods down: shine.
Captivating. Beautiful. Attractive.