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Give Me a Word – Drawing Winners: A Love Note From Your Online Abbess

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Thanks to everyone who shared their word with our community!

The practice of listening for a word to guide you into the next season of your life is an ancient one. 

This is an excerpt from my book Desert Fathers and Mothers:

A brother questioned Abba Hierax saying, “Give me a word.  How can I be saved?” The old man said to him, “Sit in your cell, and if you are hungry, eat, if you are thirsty, drink; only do not speak evil of anyone, and you will be saved. (Hierax 1)

A key phrase, repeated often in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, is “Give me a word.”   When a novice approaches one of the ammas or abbas and says “Give me a word,” “he or she is not asking for either a command or a solution, but for a communication that can be received as a stimulus to grow into fuller life.  It is never a theoretical matter, and the elders are scathing about those who want simply something to discuss.” (from Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes.)

We find this phrase repeated throughout the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  This tradition of asking for a word was a way of seeking something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime.  The “word” was often a short phrase to nourish and challenge the receiver.  A word was meant to be wrestled with and slowly grown into.

A monk once came to Basil of Caesarea and said, “Speak a word, Father”; and Basil replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and the monk went away at once.  Twenty years later he came back and said, “Father, I have struggled to keep your word; now speak another word to me”; and he said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”; and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.

This story demonstrates how a word could be worked on for years at a time.  The word being sought was not a theological explanation or counseling.  It was part of a relationship which had developed and the assumption that this word, when received by the disciple would be life-giving.  It was meant for this person in this moment of their lives.  The word offered was highly contextual and was spoken with simplicity and directness.

As you listen for your own word (or if a word has come, as you let it work the fertile soil of your heart), consider releasing your thinking mind and enter into a space of receiving.  Imagine yourself in the desert and asking for your own life-giving word.  It might come in a time of stillness or it might arrive later in the day in the form of a line of poetry, wise words offered from an unexpected source, a dream symbol, or an image you stumble upon that seizes your imagination.  

I often ask for a word as I take my daily walks. I listen for what the trees and pigeons might have to offer me.  When we receive a word, often it is confirmed through synchronicities that continue to appear to us.

The purpose of the word is to simply hold it in your heart, turning it over and over, pondering, but not analyzing.  Give it space within you to speak.


Get in touch with us at to claim your prize. If you won a signed book please include your mailing address. 

If you still want to journey through the free 12-day mini-retreat to let your word choose you, you can register here

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

PS – I am so grateful for all your love and prayers and am feeling much better. I give a brief update here.

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