I have been slow to write of it this year. That phenomenon that has been an annual occurrence now for the past 7 years.
A word has chosen me for the new year. I did not just become aware of it today or yesterday – or even on January 1st. It has been pursuing me for weeks now, not unlike the Hound of Heaven, nipping at my heels when I try to ignore it or push it away.
(For some history on the Give-me-a-word tradition, see my post from January, 2017.)
Before proceeding, allow me to recap the words that have chosen me over the years, so fruitfully challenging my soul.
The very first word was “yes”. Now that seems like a simple and innocent word – except that, at the time, I didn’t know just what it was I was saying “yes” to – I simply knew I had to say it.
I think this will help you understand (if you didn’t already) how having a word choose you for the year ahead can be a very powerful thing.
The following year, “obedience” chose me and after that came “humility”. The following year that rather curious and antiquated word, “chasten”, sunk it talons in me until I embraced it with gratitude. Then there was “mercy” and finally, in 2017, “purify”.
None of these words seem so very threatening, sitting there by themselves on the page. But let the purifying begin and it is another story.
As I anticipated last year, “purify” did not mean having a nice shower and cleaning up a bit. It was more like having my heart ripped out and scoured.
But I’m glad it happened. I’m grateful the word chose me – not because it made the events of the past year happen but because it guided me through them.
In my moments of anguish, it gave me pause to consider, “Perhaps this is God purifying me for Himself”. And while it did not lead me to enjoy the experience, it helped me endure and grow.
It helped me understand just a little bit more what it means to follow Christ.
And so why have I hesitated in writing of this year’s word?
Perhaps because it is hard to know how to write of it, despite my soul’s recognition that it is indeed the word.
The word that has chosen me this year is “nothing”.
It is not a new word in my interior life. I have long had some awareness that I am nothing. But it seems that I am being invited to learn this on ever deeper levels.
I once posted a comment at Fr. Stephen’s blog (Glory to God for All Things) in which I attested to the reality that I am nothing and some kind soul tried to rescue me from what they assumed was an experience of despair or low self-esteem.
I was offered a reminder of how gloriously God created me and how mercifully He has saved me from my sins.
This is all true – more true than any other reality I might consider.
And this perhaps is at the heart of my awareness that I am indeed nothing.
I am nothing before Him. I am nothing apart from Him.
My consciousness, my ever-present awareness of “self”, can almost be said to be a delusion in light of His glory.
I often live my life as though what I think and how I feel are of tremendous importance, not only to me but to the world around me.
Do I like this feeling? Then I must seek to perpetuate it. Do I find this unpleasant or painful? I must avoid it.
Do I agree with this teaching (or this individual or this political group)? Then I must see to promote or defeat it.
Hence, within my notion of my self, there lies a delusion that my wants and needs, my opinions and ideas, are at the center of a universe that should accommodate if not obey me.
If this remained but a distorted idea in my head, perhaps it would be harmless. However, because of its perceived importance, this delusion is the default setting within that guides far too many of my actions and decisions.
One might readily normalize this on the basis of my biological ancestry. After all, my brain is hardwired to avoid what will harm or kill me and to seek what will enable me to feel well in terms of physical survival.
And how true this is. This hardwiring is a gift from our Creator and must not be disrespected.
However, in the spiritual life, such a delusion about the value of self is utterly toxic.
I am simply not the center of the universe. Next to the grandeur of God, I am barely a speck of dust.
But this is not cause for despair. On the contrary, it cause for great joy.
We were made for union with God. Can I, a mere speck of dust, imagine such a thing?
Surely I cannot. But neither can I imagine being apart from Him.
Not so long ago, I happened upon a tract someone had written about sin. The author asserted that when we commit mortal sin (i.e. intentional serious sin), we are telling Jesus that we do not want Him in our hearts. He has no choice but to leave.
Reading this horrified me. Not that I was planning to intentionally commit serious sin, but the thought of Christ not being in my heart terrified me.
Even if I am tired, restless, doubting or otherwise not mindful of Him, I cannot bear the thought of Him not dwelling within me.
It would be like suddenly going blind, becoming deaf and having my limbs amputated all at once – only worse. How could I be anything if He were not here – here within my heart?
While I am far from experiencing the complete union with God for which I was made, this reflection heightened my awareness that I am so far in that there is no turning back.
Apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I am nothing.
Once the terror had subsided, I experienced gratitude – gratitude that I don’t ever have to be apart from Him.
Even more than that, I am grateful to be assured that a tiny speck of dust like me has the capacity to one day know full union with Him – the Trinity of Love that brings all things into being.
In the course of our lives, we often encounter experiences that provide glimmerings of union – and generally we find them very appealing.
We humans seek out sensations of union in many and varied ways, through sex, friendship, even being part of a large crowd cheering on a sports team.
We naturally gravitate toward these sorts of experiences because we were made for union.
However, the union for which our Creator designed us so far exceeds these human experiences that we cannot begin to fathom it.
How can I explain what I mean?
I am only free to live in union with God if I have been emptied of all of the delusions of the sanctity and significance of my personal selfhood.
For true union, based on divine Love, can only come about by my becoming nothing. I must be emptied of the false self, the false life I have created in which I have imagined myself god.
Then, beholding Him, the living God before me, all worldly desires and thoughts of self will be readily abandoned, that I might race toward Him and the eternal embrace of all who love Him.
It is not that I will cease to exist at that moment – no, quite the opposite.
To know my nothingness and relinquish my self will not be the end of my life. Nor will I be left without identity, assimilated into some impersonal cloud of energy.
No – it will be at that moment, in that union, that I will begin to truly experience for the first time the fullness of life.
Of course, I have made it sound as though my year with “nothing” is going to be a grand and glorious experience.
On a human level, I doubt very much that this will be the case. To enter the depths of my nothingness suggests a great deal of letting go. I cannot hold onto anything or anyone, not even control over where I am heading.
I can only hold on to God and go where He takes me.
I cannot help but think that there a plot behind these words that have searched me out me over the last 7 years. Can you not see the pattern in their progression?
However, it is not a plot against me but a plot for me. A plot to free me completely for love.
In one of his letters, St. Paul hints at what lies ahead…
I have been crucified with Christ;
it is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.
– Galatians 2:20
May it be so…