This season of Epiphany has been luxuriously lengthy!
I’m sure you know that Epiphany can be as short as 4 weeks or as long as 9, and this year we are enjoying 8 beautiful weeks of increasing light.
Light that began with our following a star in the night sky that stopped and stayed over a house, where Jesus was. Three kings ushered us in, and we have stopped and stayed, too, basking!
God is in the house and we know it through
ordinary substances that bring us God,
like Manger hay that cradles God, and the human face that bears God’s image;
like water in the font and fire on the wicks of prayer candles,
and bread and wine on the table for a feast.
Physical Substance that makes us know Spiritual Presence.
This is an Epiphany kind of knowing:
that the spiritual resides in the physical, the Holy in the Human.
We have been practicing the spiritual truth that the Ordinary mundane life ~ is filled with God!
We’re coming to the crescendo of light!
Peter, James and John, on a mountain top with Jesus and he is transfigured before their eyes, full-on light, white as snow, fuller’s soap, even ‘bleached linen’ one gospel says. Blinding light that makes us close our eyes for its holy brilliance.
This Incarnate Christ, this human Jesus, this God in the body. . .in transfigured glory.
The story is even set as a mountain top experience ~ to signify that we have reached the height of insight. An ultimate knowing of things about truth, beauty and goodness.
And this is that truth for us:
when Jesus is transfigured, we realize that we have been transfigured, changed by the ‘new light that shines in our hearts’; a revelation of self, to show us God within, God in, around, beneath, above, behind and in front of us.
Eight weeks (plus two for Christmas) and we finally know we are God’s holy habitation, God’s house, a temple for the holy spirit. God’s happy abiding. God, In Us.
It’s just the very assurance we need before going back down the mountain with this Incarnate One, who is about to lead us into the wilderness, to get a deeper understanding of our humanity. He can do this, because his humanity is like ours. [He was born of a woman, remember?]
We need that truth, that particular light, before we descend the mountain into the depths.
We need that light, down deep and certain, to risk a look at our humanity, in particular, at our mortality.
For me it is the only context in which I can near the edge of the grave, close enough to withstand the smudge of ashes on my forehead as a taste of death.
It is only in the taste of death, that I can actually get a whiff of the resurrection.
Up close, sensory.
Smudge on skin.
Burning, ash, scent of singed fibrous palm branch, substance in dust.
And so, it’s worth going there, to the edge of my grave in the ashes of Wednesday, because ironically, it gives me hope.
Funny thing to think that maybe my heart skips a beat on Ash Wednesday because we play with it: Our death.
And we play with fire and holy spirit, who will get in my grave and gather me from the dust and ash, and raise me with holy spirit breath, from the dead;
and call me Ruth again.
Lent will focus on the wilderness and the journey of wending our way through the depths and crevices of our own humanity and indeed our mortality, to the passion of our lord, and our shared grave, and . . . our shared resurrection.
No matter how long Epiphany lasts, it always finishes with the same Sunday gospel:
~ the story of the Transfiguration ~
And this year it will happen on March 3rd, the last Sunday after the Epiphany.
Let’s savor these final weeks of Epiphany and the beautiful new light that shines in our hearts, because that light goes with us, into Lent. It is our knowing, in the midst of our not knowing.
Savoring, basking, gathering light,
In a week when Valentines swirl, and the mail might arrive with scented stationery or upside-down stamps, or flowers might arrive at the door, or better yet, home-made red construction paper hearts backed with white fringed paper doilies to carry big love from children, with heart candy that says: Be Mine!
. . . in that spirit. . .
I send you these rose petals, this home-made heart on my dining room table, my expression of love!
And did you see, that I wrote it in Latin, my greeting of love?
You probably did notice, and you probably also noticed that it was vaguely familiar!
Indeed, because it is the phrase we have begun singing during our love feast in church. We sing it when we all share together our bread and wine for a love feast at the table, candles and white linens, notwithstanding. Definitely the romance of love!
“Ubi Caritas, et amor, ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.”
We’re singing in latin, and doesn’t everything sound better in latin?! More romantic, more mysterious, more feasible, more hopeful. . .
It’s that good old Ancient church of ours,
“Ubi Caritas, et amor, ubi caritas Deus ibi est.”
("Where true charity and love abide, God is there")
The church has been loving and singing of it for centuries.
This little ditty that we sing during communion is a Gregorian chant, as old as the 10th century, possibly the 4th century, and perhaps, and most likely, from even before the mass itself was formalized as a ‘rite’ in the very early church.
We lift our voices with the throngs, we join in the God-love with a sweet melody, in hopes that the ethereal will produce the tangible.
We sing with the ancients, this Gregorian Chant, during communion, in hopes that our singing of God-love, will produce human-love. We sing in hopes that in our chanting of human-love, we will see God.
“Caritas” expresses love for humanity, and wherever that is found, God is there.
Imagine! All we have to do is love, any kind of love at all. . . any love . . . and God is there! Voila!
Do we seek God?
Do we doubt God?
Do we long for God? Do we beg God to show up?
Do we wonder at God’s absence?
And Yet. God is so easily found.
God is there in our loving.
God is as certain as that.
All we have to do is love…and we do indeed, love.
That much I know. I’ve seen it.
For all our want to play with the liturgy and bring light and joy and peace into our worship ~ here we are ~ singing Gregorian chant! For love!
Aren’t we smart?!
Let’s talk more on Sunday morning, about this great love and the occasion for our feasting!
"God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them."
I John 4:16
Two weeks ago we blessed our trails, outside, with water and asperges and prayers, conversation and reflections, and dogs in tow (as it was our ‘every-second-Sunday-pet-friendly-Sunday’).
Some among us met us at strategic points along the way so that they could have access by way of the pavement.
Some among us went along on the pilgrimage by way of a hand-held labyrinth.
The labyrinth holds the truth that every journey outward is really a journey inward. And that every pilgrimage is made for the sacred truth that God is with us in every step, and that we embark on any and every pilgrimage for the deep and singular purpose, of going with God.
Beth Ellis is one among us who used the hand-held labyrinth (and we celebrate her recent trade-in of a therapeutic boot for ‘real’ shoes!). She shared with me that she had a surprisingly profound experience with this paper labyrinth. I asked if she would be willing to share the same with you.
She said yes, so here, in my parson’s letter, I have included her reflection.
Thank you ever so much Beth.
“It was a line on paper to wile away the time as Catherine Giel filled the sanctuary with musical fragrance.
Follow within the line was all you had to do to arrive at the center, the heart.
As the pen made it's way around curve after curve, my mind stopped controlling and I just focused on the path.
I wasn't expecting anything except passage of time, when, rounding a curve with my point, I had this thought: 'follow where You lead'.
Again, another bend or two and this came into my mind: 'honor things brought into my life'.
What was this?
What or where were these thoughts coming from?
When the very next thought relayed was: 'it's Your majesty'.
The next thought that came to me on the path was: ‘long periods of introspection yet nearness in fellowship with You'.
I continued following the course around another bend and then to another.
Once again I received the understanding that: 'this is a journey and a process'
And: 'I want to see Jesus in all of this and after life'.
Continuing on to the center I understood: 'continue to follow the path until I walk into the Holy Light of peace and joy'.
Amen! to this hand-held labyrinth walk.
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.