A Review of Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice

There are books that seem to appear in one’s life when they are most needed. So it was with Word by Word by Marilyn McEntyre. In the midst of packing up boxes for a move across state lines, McEntyre’s thoughtful devotional served as a little lifeline of peace and profundity in the midst of the chaos that accompanies ending a chapter of life and beginning anew.

In Word by Word, McEntyre reflects on the richness of words – 15 words to be exact. She invites the reader on a journey that involves patience and discipline, especially for those of us who like to fly through a book so we can be on to the next great read.

In this book, however, we are asked to “dwell with and savor” these 15 words, spending a week with each one. McEntyre drew on two spiritual practices in the formation of this devotional: lectio divina, where a reader is asked to read, reflect, pray, and contemplate a specific Scriptural passage or text, and centering prayer, where the reader is asked to dwell in silence, letting the word being studied focus the mind so that we “may become newly aware of divine presence” (viii).

As the reader may notice, and McEnytre points out in the introduction, the words chosen are all verbs. She explains that this was not her intention, but acknowledges that verbs are a good place to start. “They’re the fulcrum of every sentence, and the keys to many kinds of seeking” (ix). McEntyre’s reason for writing this book, and her invitation to the reader, is as simple as it is beautiful: that we will realize “how words may become little fountains of grace. How a single word may become, for a time, ‘equipment for living.’ How a single word may open wide wakes of meaning and feeling. How a single word may, if you hold it for a while, become a prayer” (x).

The reader begins with the word listen, spending seven days exploring it from different angles, reflecting on its meaning, and dwelling in its purpose and significance in our lives. Each daily reflection on that week’s word is short – a mere one to two pages – but each is packed with enough wisdom and thoughtful discussion to carry the reader through the day and leave them ready for the next morning’s morsel.

From listen, the reader moves on to receive, and then there is enjoy, let go, watch, accept, resist, allow, be still, follow, rejoice, ask, dare, leave, and welcome.

I found that I immediately gravitated toward certain words over others. For instance, listen holds great meaning for me, as someone who is often quiet, introverted, and generally the last to speak in social situations, if I speak at all. On the other hand, as someone uncomfortable with receiving gifts (or guidance), the word receive was more difficult to connect with. I found great meaning, however, in the words that instantly resonated with me as well as those that gave me pause. Exploring and dwelling on each word a little more each day allowed me to see the reasons behind my initial reactions and form a new appreciation for each of these impactful little verbs.

I also appreciated the care with which McEntyre arranged the words for reflection. It seemed to me that each word subtly built on the one before, while forging a path toward the one to come. I especially enjoyed that the last two words for study were leave followed by welcome. Perhaps it was because I was, and am, in the midst of my own life transition, but leaving behind what is known, and welcoming what is unknown, held a special significance for me during this specific time in my life.

Word by Word was an unexpected gift during life’s latest transition, and as McEntyre observes with the word receive, “Every gift changes something – the shape of the day, the balance of a relationship, or just the space available on a shelf or in a drawer. To receive it is to accept that shift, slight or dramatic, and to make an adjustment” (18).

As I make physical adjustments in my new living space, arranging and rearranging furniture to be just so, placing books in their proper order – and adding this newfound treasure – I can feel McEntyre’s 15 mighty verbs making their own adjustments, too. They are settling in, burrowing deep into my mind and heart with their simple truths and gentle guidance.

Alisa Williams is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. This review originally appeared on the Englewood Review of Books and is reprinted here with permission.

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Marilyn McEntyre is a favorite poet of mine. Here is her poem on being vegetarian (she is one).


Don’t steam anything more than seven minutes
Plant garlic
Expand your grain vision beyond rice
Discover the virtues of the potato
Bypass the frozen food
Frequent the farmers’ market
Lobby for salad bars
Boycott burgers
Expand your repertoire of seeds and nuts
Celebrate Thanksgiving with corn and squash
Be open-minded about macrobiotics
Get a juicer
Celebrate the versatility of tofu
Don’t scorn the lowly seaweed
Make custom granola
Learn where protein lurks
Celebrate the strawberry
Compost, cultivate, and cook consciously


A short video from a Christian lady on her teachings on centring prayer:

Sounds similar to what we read above. Now a short video from a non-christian, who will speak on transcendental meditation technique:

  1. Get comfortable in a seated position and close your eyes. You can place your hands on your thighs or in your lap.
  2. Start repeating your mantra (in your head)
    This mantra is simply a sound that has no meaning to you. You don’t want a mantra that will trigger thoughts. It is good to use rudimentary sounds like ‘nnnnnn’ or ‘aaaaaaaa’ I visualize a row of lower case italicized n’s on the inhale, and a non-italicized row of lower case n’s on the exhale. Go through some various sounds and work out which is best for you. You do not need to have a personalized mantra given to you by someone else. The purpose of the mantra is to provide a focal point in your mind’s eye. If you view your mind as a cone heading down to the no-thought zone at the narrow end, the mantra is like a central pillar with all your thoughts whirring around it. The closer you are to the pillar, the faster you will float down into the no-thought zone.
  3. Don’t try to stop your thoughts or clear your mind of thoughts. The process must be effortless. Simply continue repeating your mantra. Sometimes you will drift away from your mantra, just be sure to always come back to it. Slowly but surely your thoughts will slow down and become less frequent. Don’t force this, just let it happen.
  4. As you get closer to the no-thought zone, you should start to feel tingling in your hands and feet. You will notice your whole body being gradually released of tension and your heart rate slowing substantially.
  5. Once you are in the no-thought zone, try and stay there. Your mind is at such rest in this zone that it doesn’t even want to repeat the mantra. This is a great sign. You know you are in the no-thought zone when thoughts start forming but disintegrate before your mind’s eye. If thoughts do start getting out of hand, just remember to refocus on the mantra and delve as deeply as possible back into the no-thought zone. Stay in this zone for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Repeat this process twice a day, once when you wake in the morning, and once about 3 to 6 hours before going to sleep.

Both teachings - Christian and non-Christian have similarities. Interestingly you do not find any of this in the Scriptures. The Prophets, nor the apostles taught such things. And Jesus certainly didn’t either. He, Christ, even went out of His way to teach us how we are to communicate with God:

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mat. 5:7-14)

One of the things we learn from Jesus is, to talk with God is no different to how you would talk with any other human being - respectfully, and clearly, so as to be understood.

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This is New Age religion. Not Biblical but something sinister about it. Ommmmmmmmm. Don’t get sucked in.

David Helm, someone I don’t always agree with, makes sense here:

“When we stop the hard work of understanding the words that the Spirit has given us and work exclusively in the “mind of the Spirit,” we become the final authority on meaning. We begin to lay down “truths” and “advice” that are biblically untenable or unsupportable. We may do so for good reasons, such as our sense of the moral health of our people or a genuine desire to renew the world we live in. But, nevertheless, we begin operating outside of orthodox doctrine. We confuse “thus sayeth the Lord” with “thus sayeth me.” We ask our congregations to trust us instead of trusting the Word.”

Those who eat only fruits, nuts and vegetables, and condemn those who eat everything are referred to as having a weaker faith. Read Romans 14:2, it’s very strait forward.

"The man who does not eat everything MUST NOT CONDEMN the man who does, for GOD HAS ACCEPTED HIM!" Romans 14:3.

End of story. Ellen White, who you apparently follow with meticulous precision, is in opposition to the Freedom of the Believer in regards to diet. I choose not to hang on her every word…she is a lesser light.

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Thank you for this book review. It makes me want to read it. Objections listed by those who have not read the book do not deter me. I believe I can read a book and with the Spirit’s blessing receive what is helpful and if there is something that isn’t, can pass over that.

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