For the past few years I have tried to pick a word in January that I felt would guide my year ahead. It would be a word I hoped would encapsulate my attitudes and actions, what I wanted to do in the next twelve months, as I set resolutions and goals.
Last year I picked more of a thought, a poem that as soon as I heard it – I knew it was exactly where I was in my life:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
-Minnie Louise Haskins
I felt like I was stepping into something unknown, some darkness that God was lighting a way into. I didn’t know what.
Awakening was not the word I picked in 2015 but as the months moved on, I realized that it was the word that best described my life. It kept appearing in my journals, in my heart. I felt like I was awakening from a long slumber, like there were layers of rock being chipped away from around my heart.
Anxiety and worry, perfectionism and feelings of failure had built up these hardened places. Hurry and busyness stifled my creativity and my prayers were all but smoke blown away in the rushing wind of all the things I felt I had to do to live up to some imaginary standard of what God wanted from me.
I began to move again, teaching dance classes to refugee children. I have always hated teaching, never feeling like I was “expert” enough to have anything to offer. These kids bright smiles awakened something in me, reminding me of dance for the pure love it, of how simply creating together connects us beyond borders and differences.
I began to write again, hesitant to call myself “writer.” My heart quickly ignited as something dormant in me for so many years found it’s way to the forefront, awakening a calling in me I had suppressed for the busyness of life. I had acted like it wasn’t there, this dream inside of me. I really just wasn’t brave enough to walk into the unknown until I took God’s hand and said, “let’s go…”
At the end of that year of awakening, I sat in the dim light filtering in through the stained glass windows of the Abbey Church where I always spent my end of the year reflection time. A new word found me.
I had been praying for several days for God to show me a word that He wanted the next season of my life to embody. I had been exploring some new ways of being intentional about the habits and rhythms of the months ahead (as I wrote about in A Year Without Resolutions for Christianity Today). I wanted God to show me a word that was more about who He wanted me to be, that would guide me as I seek to craft a rule of life this year.
I had been reading a lot about different spiritual practices that were new to me but very old in the way of the global church. I have been drawn to silence and stillness all year. It was one of my aims in creating this very blog to make a space that would allow for God’s voice to break through all of the noise, to find space in my head and heart for another voice to be heard.
Like awakening in 2015, I kept seeing the word practice everywhere. Every time I would pray it would rise to the surface of my mind. I dismissed it because it wasn’t a very inspiring word. Other people were picking words like open, dream, believe. Their words inspired beauty. Mine was reminiscent of my endless days of a million tendus in ballet class, drilling the same thing over and over.
But as I sat in the stillness of the monastery listening to the monks chant the psalms of vespers that they repeat daily, I understood why that word kept speaking to me. I looked up the word and read these words as a definition: the actual application or use of an idea, belief or method as opposed to theories, to live according to the teachings of.
This year I am coming up on twenty years of following Christ. Still, I feel like a beginner. Still, I feel like I have a lot of head knowledge but haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of living according to the teachings of Jesus. It is as if God was saying to me:
You know the way. I have shown you. Now walk in it.
Practice your art. It is a gift from Me. Use it for my glory and the building up of others.
Practice the paths of the ancients, the spiritual disciplines that allow for stillness and silence and hearing my voice above all the noise of the world.
Practice all the truths you have seen and know in your head. Move beyond the theory of loving others. Practice loving others.
Ann Voskamp says, “practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.” In those early mornings when my three favorite people are all snuggled up next to me and I have to tear myself away, it is the practice of rising early to meet with Jesus that is the hardest part of learning. When my mind is wandering back to my schedule, my thoughts of doing, it is the practice of silence that feels like the training I know will transform me.
The wonderful thing about practice is that it is not perfection. In practice, we have the permission to mess up. We try again. If something isn’t working, we try a different way. We keep coming with a learner’s mind, open hands, knowing we have much left to learn.
This year another poem found me as I was reading the words of Claire of Assisi, who penned the first monastic rule of life written by a woman. It speaks to me of practice, of diligence but not in doing. These words resonate in my heart with the spirit of going forward in the pursuit of what He has called you to be, always holding onto the only thing that matters…
What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step,
so that even your steps stir no dust,
securely, joyfully, and swiftly,
on the path of prudent happiness,
agreeing with nothing
which would dissuade you from this resolution
or which would place a stumbling block for you on the way,
so that you may offer your vows to the Most High
in the pursuit of that perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.