This post is going to be different. I’m not the most transparent person. Maybe it’s a personality trait (INFJ all the way), or maybe I just didn’t develop in this area as I should have. Whatever the reason, writing down my thoughts, feelings, and reflections seems to be the most raw version of me. Here, in black ink, and white pages, the inner abstract becomes an external concrete. And it’s that what every scribe wants?
Therefore, this post is going to be different. I’m not going to assume some voice, or analyze some biblical passage. Instead, I will simply offer me on this Epiphany.
For those of you who don’t know – Epiphany is the day the church celebrates the arrival of the Magi to a two-year-old Jesus. The Christmas season which is 12 days long (or 14 depending on your tradition) is ended. While we have awaited something during Advent, then celebrated a child’s birth in Christmastide, it isn’t until this day that we recognize, as the church, who He really is. Before today, he was the “with us God”. But today, we know who he is. He is our King. He is the Messiah. He is our teacher. He is our prophet. He is our priest. He is our groom. And we are his disciples, his bride. He is coming to save, redeem, make-right, and complete the tear within the world: the tears within our lives.
Today, we collectively have an Epiphany.
I grew up Nazarene. I love the Nazarene church – especially in it’s administration. I loved making connections with different youth from around the districts, and even the nation. I love its heritage and its emphasis on a holy life. But one thing that was not apart of my Nazarene heritage was the Christian calendar. Advent was occasionally celebrated, at least in the sense that we had candles out on Sunday. Lent was encouraged as a lifestyle choice – to give up something – but not as a spiritual discipline. Christmas and Easter were celebrated – but mostly as family days. Christ didn’t inbreak into my life in an intimate way on those days.
There was no Epiphany. There was no Christmastide. There was no Lenten fasting. There was no Eastertide. There was no Pentecost. There was no Kingdom Time. I’m not trying to bash my upbringing or say that I had it bad – because I didn’t! I just want to paint the picture of being a Pastor’s Kid in the Evangelical church.
So, when I went to Seminary – a Seminary that celebrates the Christian year in chapel – I decided to give the church calendar a try.
The first year was simply concrete practices. My altar changed colors with the various seasons. Different crosses, and icons, and candles come out depending on what the season focuses on. I went to the Book of Common Prayer and used the seasonal prayers to help me focus my prayer life. I picked a fraction of Saint days to celebrate (almost every day is a Saint day – so I just picked the ones that have made an impact on my life).
The first year with the calendar was awkward. I was a low-church girl who wrote my own prayers, prayed when I felt a nudge, and celebrated Christmas and Easter the way the world did. So my first year with the calendar was a great intellectual exercise, and I learned a lot. And so, when that first year of the calendar was done – I decided to do it again. But this time, I knew what was coming in terms of colors, themes, and prayers. I knew how to use prayer books, lectionaries, and I knew various ancient traditions. I had figured out from my previous year what I liked and didn’t like. And I was ready to experiment in a new way – I was going to bring myself, all my likes and dislikes. All my struggles, and fears. All my nefesh (soul/heart/lifeblood/being) into the seasons.
I asked God to show me how journey through His story, our story, intimately with Him. What I didn’t realize is how this little practice would utterly change my spiritual life.
I have always looked at the events of the Bible as history. They tell me about the God I serve in a historical and definitional sense. But when I let the church calendar – which is informed by the Biblical narrative, keep time in my life, I realize something amazing – God lives this story every day, every hour, every minute. Every time I read the scriptures for the day (from the Book of Common Prayer) I started seeing myself as the characters. And as I did this, I realized that these scriptures followed the Christian calendar. The historic church has created a way for me to connect to God based on the season I was in. Lent was particularly memorable, but I won’t get into that here.
And now, every season, I get to focus on him. I get to wait on him during Advent, which means I am forced to look at the dark places in my life and let a tiny light shine through. And I give those things to God each week, each day in front of the altar that is dark, that has no incense, no icons, nothing to engage the senses. I get to celebrate him coming into my life during the 12 days of Christmas. And so candles get lit, a picture of baby Jesus arrives. It’s no longer an empty celebration. Instead, I see the dark places actually transform. Relationships have made right. Guilt becomes free. A new thing is born in me because, I, like the characters that I read about, are waiting for a Messiah. How could a faithful God not show up when I have given him my 5 senses at the altar, when I have meditated on prayers my historic family has prayed, when I have cried as I journaled in sorrow, yelled at Him when I’m angry, and joyfully praised him in song when my heart is full.
And the longer I sit with colors, themes, hymns of season, and prayer books, the longer I realize that this life isn’t rigid. It isn’t archaic. It isn’t a straight-jacket suppressing my spirit.
It’s a way of life. It’s a way of ordering time.
It’s become a way to receive our God in His story instead of trying to make Him give me my own.
It’s freedom to worship with the angelic hosts, who participate in His story. It’s freedom to pray with the saints who have gone before, who have lived His story. It’s a way to focus on my imperfect, selfish prayers on a God who lived, lives, and will continue to live out His story.
Last night, at dusk, I welcomed in Epiphany. My husband was not home. My close friends are far away. I was in a new town, and an empty house. But I knew in my nefesh that God was calling me to lay down my gifts for him and recognize who he was in my life at that very moment. Because I’ve been living the story for the last 2 years. And last night, I was a Magi in search of a King.
So I grabbed my guitar and the Advent candles that are on my altar and I brought them to the prayer chapel that is located on the church grounds. It was cold there. The little heater takes a long time to warm up. But I burned my Advent and Christ candle as I took out my guitar. I let them burn all the way down as I lit my incense of frankincense and myrrh. I was welcoming the Messiah into our life.
And so I praised my Lord.
I sang songs. I played chords and sang lyrics as they came to me. All of them in praise of who He is – for I knew who He was. And something happened. I was not alone in the prayer chapel. I felt the presence of the church. I felt the angels and the saints. And I kept playing and singing and praising. My fingers were frozen, my guitar was slowly getting out-out-tune. But I was wild with abandon. Tears streamed down my face. I was having, in real-time, an Epiphany.
Because today, I recognize who he is in my life. I don’t know what this season will bring. But I do know that is will bring me a greater understanding of who He, right now – to my own circumstance.
For I have prepared. I have waited for him. And I celebrated him. And now I know him. He calls me to get involved in His life.
And eventually, I will don ashes and go into the wilderness with him, and die with him, and rise with him. Then I will receive the Holy Spirit in a new way and I will grow in grace with the church. And when it is all done, I will await for Him again next year as I repeat the cycle all over again.
For my God is not a God of one-night-stands. He is not a God who has one experience with his people, only to leave them be.
My God is a God of marriage. He was married to Abraham. He was married to Issac. He was married to Jacob. To Judah. To David. To Solomon. He creates a people. And that people spend a life with him. And in the years we make mistakes and have to be drawn back to Him, just like Abraham. And in the years we wrestle, just like Jacob. Be grow up, like Judah. And we love and rage, like David. And we learn and fail, like Solomon.
And the church gives me the space to do that in a sacred calendar. But it’s not an exercise for me. It’s an exercise for us. Before I participated in the Christian year, I thought I had to fix every broken relationship I had. I had to work on every sin that I committed. And it was just too overwhelming. All I could do in that reality was sit in brokenness. But when I followed God’s story in His time, I realized that he brings to mind the broken relationships I need to make right. And the rest, I give to God for Him to give back to me in His time. He calls to mind the sins I need to address – in His time, according to His plan for me in His timing. There is hope in this sort of prayer life – one I did not possess before.
I’ve learned things from the Lord in new ways since I gave up telling time by the world. And I surprising, don’t miss the Christmas tree. It’s been replaced by Frankincense and Myrrh.
Because today. I know Him. And this year, I know him differently than last year. Last year, I knew him as a King – that’s what he called me into. And I wrestled with that all year. But this year, he is calling me to sit at his feet and be a disciple. For today I know that he is my Rabbi. And that will be what I wrestle with this year. Or maybe I won’t wrestle at all. I don’t know yet.
All I know is that I’ve had an Epiphany.