Children at play improvising “let’s pretend” situations are fond of creating secret clubs for which the rules of admittance are rigorously discussed and argued over, and then finally distilled down to a single symbol that allows admittance into the secret circle: “What’s the password?”
These childhood games are based on the old practice of a predetermined response to the challenge of a guard or sentry with a “watchword,” a signal that one is a friend and not an enemy. It demonstrated that you were part of the group, and eventually came to mean the very principles or values of the group—as in “eternal vigilance is the watchword of freedom.”
It seems to me that each of us carries in hearts and minds a complex assortment of watchwords that both define us and help us gain entry into the groups that share our values and worldview. (Not to be confused with the preponderance of passwords that are a frustratingly pervasive part of our lives, and seek to protect our online activities and persona from unseen forces that would do us harm.)
One of the watchwords that I keep handy is that I’m a parent—a proud part of the group of people who have children. Another is that I’m a licensed driver—that I know and appreciate the rules of the roads. And I’m a baseball fan, the watchword of one who understands America’s greatest sport and appreciates a warm summer evening playing or watching the game.
In Adventist HealthCare we have five very specific watchwords that we have named as our core values—Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence, and Stewardship. These are the words that define our work, our association with each other, our presence in the communities we serve. Embraced collectively, they admit us into a group of people who passionately state that “we extend God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental and spiritual healing.”
And that brings me to another watchword, the watchword of our shared faith in Divine providence, which for me is a personal faith in God’s love and presence in my life. Proclaiming the watchword that I have also taken as my own, the ancient psalmist wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1, RSV).