My New Favorite Word

By The Rev. Elizabeth Rechter

Thlípsis is my latest favorite word (For other favorite words search: viriditas).

It is a spiritual word. It is the Greek word for constriction or chaffing against.  In the New Testament it is  translated tribulation.  It can be used to describe the internal pressure in our lives that causes us to feel confined, restricted, without options.  It is what happens when we are pushed toward one of our edges, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Thlípsis is a fact of life. It shows up everywhere: in our relationships, our work, our faith.  It showed up on my vacation as I was reclaiming a garden space. I fought and wrestled with vines and brambles and all manner of overgrowth.  My arms and legs were scratched to pieces. There were moments of despair as the job felt bigger than I.  At the end of the day, I sat down and rejoiced for the contest I had been given and the new life I had a part in creating.

The Benedictines teach that thlípsis is part of the work of Christian community.  In addition to the corporate work of prayer, study and hospitality, church is the place where we engage in thlípsis, the purification of our souls.   As we journey together in our lives and seek common goals, we bump into each other and into God. We come face to face with different perspectives that leave us feeling constricted and frustrated. And there is the all-familiar “chaffing against” phenomenon.  But this is the work we are called to do.  We are to show up and bring our faith.  Community life of all kinds gifts us with a safe workspace to live courageously and honestly while considering, “Who am I, and how do I want to show up in the world now as a person of God?”  In community we also get to walk with others through our own personal thlípsis that can come when we are faced with illness, disappointment, and loss.

The reason I love this word so much is because  I am reminded that God will use all of life to heal us and bring our wholeness. ALL of it.  At our best, the church is a place that welcomes thlípsis. On our best days, we are a community that says we are not afraid, but rather seek to live fully and faithfully into our humanity, and into whatever life brings.


Rev. Elizabeth+