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Jan 5 2016

The Epiphany Blessing: 20+C+M+B+16

Adoration of the Magi, a Beuronese painting at Conception Abbey

Adoration of the Magi, a Beuronese painting at Conception Abbey

Epiphany (Greek for epiphaneia, manifestation) is the holy day remembering Jesus Christ’s revealing to the world and has been celebrated since at least the mid-fourth century on January 6th. It remembers the revealing of Jesus as King and Messiah to the magi (and thus, to the Gentiles); the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God at his baptism; and the revealing of his ministry with his first miracle: turning water to wine at the Cana wedding.

Ethiopian Magi, Patrick Comerford

Ethiopian Magi, Patrick Comerford

Since the Middle Ages, people would go from home to home singing and enjoying each others’ hospitality. Using chalk, they would write the letters C+M+B on the doors or lintels of houses, blessing them as places of Christ’s hospitality.

CMB Epiphany

The initials represent Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, traditionally the names of the three Magi, as well as the Latin phrase, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, May Christ bless this house. In the Anglican tradition, Epiphany begins its own season, Epiphanytide, focusing on the ways Christ is revealed to the world. The season ends on February 2nd, with the celebration of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple.

Auch diese drei Heiligen Könige sind gestern durch Sölde gezogen.

In researching the practice, I found out that there is whole tradition in Europe that celebrates Epiphany and the CMB blessing. It is called the Star Singers, or sternsinger. Over 300,000 boys and girls in Germany alone dress up as the Magi and sing from house to house raising awareness and money for issues regarding the suffering of children globally. Last year, they raised $48 million. This German movement is now in its 58th year and for 2016 is highlighting poverty in Bolivia under the motto “Respect – for you, for me, for others.”

If you are looking for a way to close the Christmas season, and look ahead into the new year, find some chalk and write the Epiphany blessing 20+C+M+B+16 above your front door as you pray for God’s blessing on your home and all who enter. Even more, gather some friends, kiddos, and family and chalk each others’ doors, praying and singing as you go! I will be inviting my seminary students to don crowns and carry stars, pray and sing, as they chalk the doors of the classrooms and offices. Maybe we can start Star Singing in our communities, bring some beauty, fun, music, and blessing, while raising awareness of the needs of children worldwide.

Adoration of the Magi, Russian icon

Adoration of the Magi, Russian icon


Feb 2 2015

Candlemas

presentation Bénédite de la Roncière

Known by a number of names, Candlemas, or the Presentation, remembers Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple to be offered in service to the Lord as a first-born son.  In Luke’s Gospel, the family is met by Simeon and Anna, who have both longed to see the Messiah:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss  your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

In many churches, Candlemas is when all the candles set-aside for the coming year’s worship are blessed.  At St James Cathedral, Seattle, this is taken seriously: hundreds upon hundreds of creamy beeswax candles are stacked around the baptismal font, enfolding worshippers in their delicious honey fragrance. My mouth waters with the memory.

Presentation of the Lord

But even in the midst of celebration, there is a prophecy of the coming sorrow. The church year begins to look toward Holy Week. In the scripture readings for the day, Mary is told by Simeon that “a sword will pierce her heart as well.”

Today I light my morning candles with a prayer, honoring Jesus, the Light which was foretold, birthed in the stable, held to Mary’s breast, blessed by Simeon and Anna, and presented to God in the Temple. Hope. Life. Love.

“The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.  The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” John 1:1-5

fra-angelico-presentation-of-jesus-in-the-temple

One way to celebrate Candlemas is to light some candles for places and situations or people for whom God has called you to intercede. Where does the light of Hope and Love need to shine?

To paraphrase St Francis, “Where there is no light, place light, and there will be light.”

Candlemas Song by Simon Marshall

I was not there.
I did not dream my way
up prayer-worn Temple steps
as you did, Christ-Mother, that day.

I was not there.
I did not scan the gloom
or clutch a hand for courage
in the Temple waiting-room.

I was not there.
I did not hear the praise
which ancient ones sang of your child
at the midnight of their days.

I was not there.
I did not feel the sting
which bitter-sweet horizons
of your motherhood will bring.

But I am here.
And I would know a birth
to bring Divine Light’s love
into an aching, longing earth.

Yes, I am here.
And I would do my part.
O let a rising blade of Spring
strike fire into my heart.


Nov 9 2014

Celtic Advent: 40 Days of Joy, Love and Gratitude

Please see the 2015 updated version of this post here.

 Celtic Advent 2014

For each day, from November 15 until Epiphany, I’ve thought of one thing I can do to practice joy and gratitude, and to give love, putting it on a calendar that draws on ancient Advent and Christmas traditions.

In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter.  In this age of  blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also so there can be a longer, more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.

Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) is the “O” antiphons. An antiphon, from the Latin antiphona, meaning sounding against, was a repeated line of scripture used as bookends to the psalms in daily prayer and the Eucharist. The antiphon was a prayer “sound-byte,” capturing the most important aspect of the reading, helping those gathered remember through repetition. The “O” antiphons highlight a scriptural name of Christ and offer a jumping off point for reflection. Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches–as they have been for more than 1500 years–from December 17 to December 23.

Finally, Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer-culture celebration. Another lost tradition marks the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearance or manifestation and remembers the Magi visiting Jesus; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan–the public revelation that he is God’s Son; and the first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.  The period from December 25 to January 6th is an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.

Pulling these three traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully.  Here is a PDF version. Please feel free to make copies and share with your friends and church.

The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.

Let the Holy Spirit lead!

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(a yearly updated post from the archives)

Nov 22 2013

Deeper Magic

Hungry and tired, she waited for the campus bus, the visible world reduced to the lamp light’s reach. The chill made her burrow deeper into her jacket, the library’s warmth only a memory in the foggy twilight.

Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. She worried at all the questions as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. A familiar sting pricked her eyes.

Clenching her teeth, she shoved her hands back into her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts against the ache and her eyes to look for distant headlights.

And there, on the sidewalk, she saw them, just at the edge between sight and obscurity:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the darkening fog.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow, she decided.

Pinpricks of bus lights cut through the fog. Supper and bed beckoned. Warmth and sleep wooed.

Yet her eyes kept finding their way back to the prints. She could just make out more, faintly marking a path into the distance. A little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart. A little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop.

She followed, up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped, breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the Story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

ASLAN LIVES!!

 

(And repost from the archives, in honor of the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death, and based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” –Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)


May 23 2012

Into The Deep

I love the gothic, shadowed depths of a medieval dungeon or ruin. In fact, I was delighted to find a tea shop in the Christ Church Cathedral crypt, Dublin, down darkened stairs and wrapped in the muffled silence of stone and history and the tombs of saints. I pulled out my journal, and soaked in the delicious solitude. At least, that is, until the barista thought I would enjoy some American country music. The twangy lilt caused those same saints to turn over in their graves. Make it stop.

It didn’t. So I downed my tea and smiled pleasantly at the barista, leaving the depths to go to evening song upstairs. What I expected to be a simple service turned out to be a trip highlight. Two be-robed older divines prayed us through the psalms in rich baritones and lovely Oxford accents. They smiled and seemed to take joy at this sparsely attended service–just three of us tourists. After the benediction, I expected them to disappear quickly, but the priests turned and greeted us with warm smiles and handshakes, and genuine joy at our presence. The crypt had been an nice escape, but the prayer service warmed my heart.

A number of years ago a professor of mine asked her students to list the most influential people in our lives. I struggled to write names, focusing on ideas and concepts and their authors more easily. When I shared the list with the class, my professor made an observation I had completely missed: they were all writers, theologians or mystics who had been dead for a few centuries. I knew them and their ideas only through books.

Today, if I were to make the same list it would be completely different. My close friends. My parents. Pastors and mentors who have impacted me. Professors who have shared their passion for learning and faith.  And now, even for the authors on the list, I’m more interested in how they lived out their ideas in their lives.

Pursuing a PhD has had an unforeseen result. For most of my life, books promised a world in their pages where I could live, in relative solitude. The intensive study of the past 7 years burned that promise out of me–there are still books into which I can disappear, but not with the same abandon. And theology books simply don’t thrill me as they once did (I used to literally drool over them.)  The magic of the printed word comes now through its ability to engage life–beautifully, visually, poetically.

I have feared this new way of life. Prayed before my wall of books to love them again with the same passion and joy.  Wondered where I failed somewhere along the way to becoming a scholar.

But I think something else has happened, maybe more wonderful and amazing than I can yet see. Before, books were my idol. Now, the ones that matter, have become icons, pushing me through their pages to engage with life directly. I have kept going to them, on some days, demanding to experience God, on other days, to escape,  and the incarnated Emmanuel has wooed me to life and love, to living people, with all the risk, speechless pain and beauty.

Thirteen years ago, I had a brief glimpse of this and recorded it in my journal:

“But, turn to Me in life, in the world, with all it’s confusion and chaos and stark beauty and tragic pain, and love Me there. Love Me where it will hurt you, love Me where the beauty will break your heart, love Me in the confusion, love Me with your life, love Me as a living sacrifice, not as a dead one, love Me as a failure and see My glorious redemption.”

The challenge of the dissertation may be, at the very last, a call to commit and engage life deeply, and rather than look to a wall of books for experience, simply live and write about it.

I’ve gravitated to reading books in crypts and pondering life in cemeteries, alone with my journal. On the other hand, this practice–no, discipline–of writing for others, be it a blog or a dissertation, cannot be a solitary act. It requires more than putting on the trappings of depth, but a willingness to till the loamy soil of living, plant myself deep into relationships, and bring the fruit to the page.

Reading has often been my escape. Writing is calling me to grow.

 

(photos from my recent trip to Ireland: Quin Abbey, Inishmore cemetary, Ballyhannon Castle, and the Seven Churches, Inishmore.)


Nov 22 2011

The Deeper Magic

Hungry and tired, she waited for the campus bus, the visible world reduced to the lamp light’s reach. The chill made her burrow deeper into her jacket, the library’s warmth only a memory in the foggy twilight.

Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. She worried at all the questions as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. A familiar sting pricked her eyes.

Clenching her teeth, she shoved her hands back into her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts against the ache and her eyes to look for distant headlights.

And there, on the sidewalk, she saw them, just at the edge between sight and obscurity:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the darkening fog.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow, she decided. 

Pinpricks of bus lights cut through the fog. Supper and bed beckoned. Warmth and sleep wooed.

Yet her eyes kept finding their way back to the prints. Even in the fog, she could just make out more marking a path into the distance. A little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart. A little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop.

She followed, up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped; breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the Story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

 

images

ASLAN LIVES!!

 

(And edited repost from the archives, in honor of CS Lewis Day, and based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” –Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)

 

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