2020 in One Word

Last month, all eyes were on a Buddhist priest and his giant calligraphy brush.

There atop Kiyomizu Temple’s iconic wooden terrace, news crews gathered to see what single kanji (Chinese character) he would draw, to summarize the entire year.

Stepping up to the blank sheet of paper over a meter in width and length, he dipped his brush and began to write.

2020 in one word.

Years from now, if nothing else, people will remember 密 mitsu, meaning “close” or “dense.” It’s Japan’s social distancing keyword, used in the “3 mitsus to avoid”: “closed spaces” 密閉空間, “crowded places” 密集場所, and “close-contact settings” 密接場面. 

Not bad considering some of the previous choices since the tradition began in 1995, like 災 (disaster), 震 (quake), 戦 (war), or even 毒 (poison)! 

Nevertheless, COVID-19 had the lasting word. 

I posed the same question to our church. What did God teach us these trying 12 months?

Immediately, one boy replied, “endurance.” Then another girl, “home,” and yet another, “creativity.” Even words that seemed grim at first (like my choice, “weakness”), captured a sense of hope.

Then as we were about to move on, I realized one person hadn’t shared: the husband of one of our members. Though not yet a follower of Christ, he has been attending services over the past year. 

Hesitantly, I put him on the spot. 

He immediately replied, “family.” 

“In what sense?” I asked, thinking he was referring to the extra time he had with his wife and daughter this year.

“This church has become like family,” he said.

Despite all the opportunities we “lost” to COVID-19, we overlooked the ones we gained – quick weekday lunches together while working from home, golf outings, even online celebrations. Through these and more, our church had become like family to him.

Indeed, someone had been painting this word, along with all the other words we shared for 2020. Not a priest in his lofty temple, but our Great High Priest upon His throne. God had the final word. 

May our eyes be watching and waiting for His next brushstrokes.

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