"In the introduction to her translation of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward describes the process by which a solitary went to an elder for a word.
" 'The Sayings,' she writes, 'were more than words of advice or instruction; they were words given . . . as life-giving words that would bring them to salvation. "Give me a word" is a key phrase in the desert tradition. The "word" is not an explanation or a consoling suggestion; it is a word that is truly life-giving, if it is not discussed or argued over, but simply received and integrated into life.'
"The unspoken question that continually underlies the silence of our life together as we pass one another in the street, or speak casually in the course of daily work is, 'Sister, Brother, do you have a word for me? Give me a word. Give me a word of healing; give me a word of life; give me a word of resurrection.' How often, in response, do we speak a resurrecting word? How often a word of condemnation?
"Many of us have little self-respect, and therefore little respect for one another. So, to turn the question around, how often do we greet each other as the image and likeness of God, with the reverence and joy that calls forth the Word; that enables the other to be vulnerable and unafraid, and in turn to speak the word of life? For all of us are called to be ammas and abbas, mothers and fathers, for each other, and more: we are called to be Christs for each other. This is the glory and dread of our vocation as Christians, that Christ may become incarnate within each of us, that we may bear the resurrecting Word, the Word of life. And it is the Word of the paradoxical glory of the Cross, of which the resurrection is the celebration.
"One of the most powerful experiences I have had of this celebration was during a retreat at a Roman Catholic monastery. Never before had I shared so much laughter, so many tears of pain and joy, in so short a week.
"On one of the last days there was a break in which we were given an awareness exercise that involved a cup of tea. We were to do it alone, off by ourselves.
"I went outside to a hermitage and, after performing the exercise, stood there, drinking my tea, looking across the valley at the mountains. I was feeling increasingly helpless, and over and over in my mind turned the question, 'How can I possibly receive this overwhelming love?'
"The next morning we heard the stories of the lawyer who tried to trap Jesus, and the parable of the Good Samaritan. The question we explored was love of God, neighbor, self; and my own effort was to know this love as one seamless love, not three loves, or one love taking a couple of acute-angle turns, as we so often perceive it.
"A few hours later at the Eucharist, I received the answer to both questions. The Roman rite retains the prayer, 'Lord, I am not worthy to receive you; speak but the word and I shall be healed.'
"In that moment I understood that each monk in the colloquia, each monk I passed in the corridor, each monk with whom I shared moments of joy and tears was not only, to use the Franciscan's phrase, a walking tabernacle, not only bore the glorified and resurrected Christ, but at the heart of this mystery truly was Christ, and in our sharing of wounds, our laughter and sorrow, our silliness and wisdom, the Word was indeed spoken, and we were healed.
"From then on, as we encountered one another, these words echoed within me: 'Edward (or William, or Gerald, or Andrew . . . ), I am not worthy to receive you.'
"Reader, I am not worthy to receive you; speak but the Word, the resurrecting Word, the Word of life, the Word of love you bear, and we both shall be healed.”