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Kathleen Norris writes often about monks, monasteries, the vast plains of South Dakota, and assorted other largely unknown and misunderstood subjects. In 2008 she wrote a book entitled, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, attending to the largely unknown and misunderstood topic of acedia. If you, like me, are drawn to such conundrums, I’ll let you seek out Norris’ work on your own while I turn instead to a small, niggling line from the book that just won’t leave me.

Apparently, Norris shares, when a novice monk had some doubt about their vocation, they were encouraged to seek out an elder and ask for a word. They would approach and simply ask, “Give me a word.”

Give me a word.

A record of these “words” passed down is filled with both practical and profound sayings and words to aid the young monk in their struggle. To be clear, these pearls of wisdom and practicality were given on top of what was already understood to be the most effective armament in battling one’s struggle with the unknown: Scripture. The desert monks were known to commit major quantities of the scriptural word to memory starting with the Psalms and the Gospels, and that was often just the beginning.

These were lives filled with words, actually, and then in the face of struggle, instinct and training prompted them to go to an elder, for a word. Words upon words.

Throughout Advent I’ve been thinking a lot about this little line, “Give me a word.” It has niggled at me— probably because I often find myself struggling with unknowns even when immersed in words, including The Word.

I vividly imagine getting to the point in my struggle where I go before an elder and utter the phrase, “Give me a word.” I can imagine how humbling and hard it would feel to get to that place, how vulnerable I would feel saying those words to my elder. But I can also imagine the quiet expectation I would feel, the drip of hopefulness in my being, the shallow breath of anticipation. For a word.

In many ways, it feels to me like Advent feels. Advent is a liturgical rhythm that we know and live into year after year. We know what it leads to and yet desperately need the hope that lies at the end of it, eager for the bright, shocking announcement, that we know comes soon:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

This is the word that we anticipate throughout all of Advent, even while having the striking advantage of knowing how it turns out. Still, we long for a word, just as needful, and just as taken aback as the shepherds were at the first angelic pronouncement.

We know it, but we need it just the same, every year. News of the savior’s birth pouring into our humble, vulnerable situation.

Right now, just two days before Christmas, we are so very close to the lofty, hopeful news that we await. But we’re not there yet. Nope. We are still standing in a dark, rocky field tending to the sheep. Just doing our jobs. Vulnerably waiting for a word.

I’m so grateful for this liturgical rhythm of both knowing and waiting, longing and hoping, and the steadfast return of the same word every year. It is a good word, and the very news that we long for— good news, of the savior’s birth. It is more than good news though, it is THE Good News.

If you, like so many, are standing in a dark, rocky field steadily doing your job but longing for a word, know that it is coming. And it is good.

Header photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

Starry sky photo by Renden Yoder on Unsplash

Angel lights photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Yellow star photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Katy Sundararajan

Katy enjoys writing here at the Reformed Journal about the small things that give us pause and point us to great wonder, the things that make our hearts glad and remind us of where our hope comes from. You can find more of Katy’s writing through Words of Hope free daily devotionals, and in Guideposts’ All God’s Creatures: Daily Devotions for Animal Lovers. Give Katy a good book, a pretty view, or a meal around the table with laughing people and she’ll say, “All is well.”


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