Last Year’s Words

In addition to the STAR words passed out in worship on Epiphany, this week I’ve drawn stars for over 150 people who have requested them on the blog or on facebook. It is a good spiritual practice for me. With each word I draw, I say a prayer for the person receiving it. Some of the people who request words are people I know and love well. Some are people I haven’t met yet. Each word goes out with hope and promise for blessing in the new year.

some of this year's stars

some of this year’s stars

We’ve been doing this for a number of years now. Some people are eager to let go of last year’s word and can’t wait to get a new one and a fresh start. Others grow attached to their word and aren’t sure a new word could be better. I’ve experienced both sides of that myself. I was ready to let go of PRACTICE. It wasn’t a bad word. It worked good changes in my life. But it was so demanding. ADVENTURE though, was a very important word for me that Is now tattooed on my soul. And PLEASURE was all gift. So grateful for that word last year.

A friend shared this quote with me in connection with STAR words and I think it is perfect.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.
~ t s eliot

Life is like that. Last year’s words are wonderful, and were life giving, and guided me on the way. Yet they don’t always translate well for the situation where I find myself today. I need new words. i need to listen to new voices. I need to find a new voice within myself. I’m ready for MIRACLE.

That eliot quote is from a poem called Little Gidding, which also has this:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

I confess that rather long poem is also chock full of things that make no sense to me. But the tension he describes in finding that space where endings become beginnings–that makes perfect sense.

I see this tension in the church too.  The structures, the programs, the way we’ve always done things,  seem clearly to be “last year’s words”. The wonderful congregation I serve navigates this new uncertain future better than most, i think. They are willing to listen for the new words in the new voices that will guide us into whatever God is dreaming next.

But, speaking broadly of American Christianity, we spoke last year’s language so well. We knew how to be church. We knew what was expected of us. We knew how to build buildings and programs . For many years, we kept going with what we knew, even as it didn’t seem to be working so well any more.

But now. Churches that insist on speaking only ‘last year’s language’ are closing their doors. And churches that refuse to remember last year’s language feel shallow and un-rooted.

eliot’s observation was echoed in the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Others have written about the state of Christianity more comprehensively than I, but I do wonder if the biggest task of churches today is to attend to the tension between beginnings and endings and beginning’s ends.

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14 thoughts on “Last Year’s Words

  1. And, at the same time,

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time”

    which are my favorite lines from that poem.

    As a study abroad director, I used them often to illustrate how the whole point of educational travel was to see home more clearly after it was over. I wonder how this works for the church, too. I’m clear on how it works for my own spiritual journey.

    xx thanks for my word!

  2. orientation. distorientation. reorientation. ongoing processes. Yep. And, I’d end, ending’s beginnings. Thanks again for my word – just doing what it says (offering).

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  5. I love this idea of passing out stars with words on them to the children and to the rest of the congregation. Are you able to send a star word file to me with ideas of words on them? I would love my own word if possible. Thank you for your ministry. It has been a blessing to me.

  6. Could I please have a new word for 2016? Last year you gave me “justice” – what a tough word! I live in the Chicagoland area and my heart just aches with the absence of justice both here and throughout our country. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: Preacher Party–New Year’s Day | RevGalBlogPals

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