By: Katie Benning

Years ago when I was over 40 and looking forward to the birth of our fourth son, with some fear and trembling I might add, I found some peace and joy in talking with a friend who was just slightly less than 40 but expecting her fifth girl. It brought to mind for me the tender story of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel where “Mary set out…in haste” (v39) to visit Elizabeth. What I imagine took place in this story is a very intimate moment as two pregnant women “make haste” to come together to encourage one another as they embark on this miracle and mystery that is pure gift from the hand of God. In this opening up of their lives to the miraculous conception it seems to me that they respond with tremendous love, humility and grace. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (v45) Beautifully stated encouraging words! As a woman, a wife and mother, a co-worker and a friend; there is much for me to learn about my response to the events in my life and how I encourage others along the way. I don’t recall that when my friend and I came together in our common bond of motherhood that we used words such as “blessed are you among women” but we did laugh, cry and encourage one another and agreed that we were truly blessed.

So how do I prepare my heart and soul for these encounters in my life in order to nurture an encouraging and welcome environment in which then I can share some peace and joy with others? One way that I enjoy nurturing my soul is seeking out and listening to those around me here and now and those in my past who speak a word of wisdom and truth into the world. Like Mrs. Hutchinson my 8th grade English teacher for example; who encouraged me to be a little more “lady-like” in my speech. Love that. Because I believe that it is by filling my mind with good and encouraging words there is less room for discouraging and not so good ideas. The best way of course for me is just to take the time to pray, and meditate and abide in the Word.

“I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world; and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.” Thomas Merton

Like Merton I beg to remain in the silence of prayer, meditation or devotion so that I may cling to Christ when my day might not go all that well. So as the sun slowly rises over the mountains and I slowly rise to meet a new day, I pray that it will be enough time to center my soul for all that I will face that day. Because all too soon I know I will have to put down my coffee, the talking heads on the news appear and babble incessantly, the dogs will demand a bio-break, the chickens anticipate their morning snack and my son will need to be coaxed from the cocoon of his bed to consume his breakfast, comb his hair and make the mad dash to the bus yet again. Heaven forbid if it’s garbage day too! And then it continues as I zoom out onto the highway negotiating morning traffic, cruise for parking, maneuver all my “stuff” into the building, settle into my cubicle to contemplate spreadsheets and regulations and delve into a very different kind of contemplation of the mysteries of government spending. Whew! The day will be well on its way and will I remember that just a few short hours before I was immersed in the sweetness of inner peace and tranquility? Oh I hope so, and not only that; will I remember to carry that message into the world that day?

An old song lurks in the far reaches of my memory that longs to burst forth and be heard! “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word”; the third line of the chorus to “Home on the Range;” an old campfire song I learned growing up. Of course then you go on to sing, “And where the skies are not cloudy all day.” We obviously don’t teach this song to our children growing up here in Southeast Alaska, because one look out the window most days and they know it just isn’t going to be true another day. Anyway, reflecting on Merton’s words and contemplating how a “word of peace may make itself heard” through me that day; that old song came back to the forefront of my mind and enveloped me in comfort much like a worn soft, favorite childhood blanket. Really, what would life be like if “seldom is heard a discouraging word”? I myself believe that could be truly blissful. No more road rage, no more going postal, no more hatred and violence. Maybe, maybe not. But I still believe that striving to share only encouraging words with our fellow travelers on this homeward journey could be sublime. If “seldom is heard a discouraging word” was the norm in my own household for example, the world would already be a brighter place. It is our call actually, in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 11-12, St. Paul writes: “Finally, brothers (and sisters), rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” So as I pause for reflection, how am I going to speak encouraging words into the lives of people who go before me today? Because honestly, I don’t believe I always do a very good job of that. Just think of the possibilities for change though; in our families, our communities and world if we all did this all the time? Sublime indeed.

One definition of encouragement that I found in a Google search was “an expression of support or approval, or words or actions that assist or inspire someone or something.” It seems like a beautiful way to live. I suppose in this day and age one should be very careful about whom you offer a “holy kiss;” but honestly though, I can’t believe we can ever go wrong with offering each other an encouraging word. Because maybe, as Merton said, “it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.” Blessings on your encouraging journey.