The Greek word appears 19 times in the New Testament. Important for Christians in the ancient world, it means sharing, contribution, or fellowship. But how do you spell “koinonia”?
You don’t see koinonia every day, but it showed up in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
A record-shattering 515 contestants competed in the bee, up from 291 in 2017. Incredibly tough words were put before the contestants in what was probably the most intense competition in the bee’s nearly century-long history. It was, according to The Washington Post, “a breathtaking show of spelling skill.”
Among the finalists was a 14-year-old from Texas named Karthik Nemmani. Although this was his first national spelling bee, he showed the poise of a veteran throughout the contest, spelling with little emotion and often keeping his arms clasped behind his back.
He was challenged by “condottiere,” meaning a knight or roving soldier. “Miarolitic,” of igneous rock. “Cendre,” a moderate blue. “Ankyloglossia,” limited normal movement of the tongue.
Nemmani spelled them perfectly, each and every one. Then, when the contest had been narrowed down to two finalists, the other contestant misspelled “bewusstseinslage.” Only two words stood between Nemmani and final victory:
“Haecceitas,” the status of being an individual. Nemmani nailed it.
And then, “koinonia,” a word meaning spiritual communion.
Confetti rained down and Nemmani smiled broadly. He had spelled koinonia correctly, and was declared champion of the bee.
Most of us would break out in a cold sweat if we had to spell koinonia on a national stage. And we might panic if we were asked to define it. But the term is worth exploring. Koinonia means sharing, contribution, fellowship, spiritual communion.
In my novel City of Peace a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden suffers the loss of his wife and daughter in a European terrorist attack, and then spirals downward into grief, anger and isolation. It takes him a long time to return to koinonia.
As he struggled one day with a sermon, he had a chance encounter with a Baptist friend named Tawnya, and they began to talk about the Holy Spirit.
“We Methodists are probably not as tuned into the Spirit as we should be,” admitted Harley. “The Spirit is wild and unpredictable, and that makes us uncomfortable. Reminds us of faith-healing and speaking in tongues.”
“But that’s not all the Spirit does,” said Tawnya.
“I also believe that the Spirit pulls us together, all of us.”
Suddenly, it hit Harley that he had been fighting too many battles alone. Over the past year, whether he was calling for global justice or nursing his own personal wounds, he acted in isolation. He was a lone voice in the wilderness, a bitter man holding on to his resentments.
But these efforts usually ended in frustration and loneliness, because they ignored the presence of something much bigger than himself.
Harley had always believed that God worked most powerfully through communities, but he had been neglecting this truth since the deaths of his wife and daughter. His pain simply wouldn’t allow it.
Now, he felt a sudden sense of relief that he didn’t have to be alone in his grief and anger and frustration, because the Spirit was with him, really with him.
Harley realized that he needed to switch boats. Instead of doing the exhausting work of rowing all by himself, it was time for him to jump into a sailboat and allow the wind of the Spirit to push him forward.
“Thanks, Tawnya,” Harley said. “I think you’ve given me the end of my sermon.”
So, how do you spell koinoinia? Where have you experienced sharing, fellowship, spiritual communion? Join the conversation through a comment below.