I love this contemplative service for the first Sunday of Epiphany from St Andrews Episcopal Church in Seattle. I hope you will take the time to enjoy the rich and nourishing music and contemplative pauses.
A contemplative service with music in the style-of-Taize for the Baptism of the Lord (Epiphany 1). Carrie Grace Littauer, prayer leader, with music by Kester Limner and Andy Myers.
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained from One License with license #A-710-756 with additional notes below.
“La Ténèbre (Our Darkness),” “Atme in Uns,” and “Što Oko Ne Vidje (What No Eye has Seen)” are songs from the Taize Community. Copyright and all rights reserved by GIA/Les Presses de Taizé.
“O Star” is an original song written by Kester Limner, shared under the Creative Commons License, Attribution (CC-BY).
“Kyrie for July 5, 2020” – music by Kester Limner and Andy Myers, text by Kester Limner, shared under the Creative Commons License, Attribution (CC-BY).
Thank you for praying with us! www.saintandrewsseattle.org
by Christine Sine
We have now moved into the Epiphany season which prompted me to write the prayer above and post it on Facebook a couple of days ago. It has been so popular that I thought I would post it here too.
The Epiphany season is of variable length. It is usually regarded as extending from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It does not just celebrate the coming of the Magi. We also celebrate various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. Jesus’ baptism is observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. The gospels for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season describe the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, and various miracles and teachings of Jesus. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is dramatically revealed in the Transfiguration gospel, as well as the gospel of the baptism of Christ. We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the showings of his divinity recorded in the gospels of the Epiphany season. (adapted from Episcopal Church website)
Worldly thinking has us resenting the fact and nature of a breakdown, but this is where faith in Jesus is the answer to that conundrum. As Christ was resurrected, so may our hopes be resurrected through the power of God’s Spirit through faith. And this is not just lip service.
If there’s a time when life runs awfully — and there are times when it has and does! — there’s also a time (coming) when life’s path is level; clearer, simpler, easier. Never immediately, but always inevitable.
If we’re impacted by despair, hope is not too far away.
If there’s a time to breakdown, there’s also a time to heal.
And if there’s time for conflict and division, there’s a time for peace and unity.
If there are times when we lack motivation — and there certainly have been and are! — there are also opportunities ahead to reclaim our purpose; to have it not only revived and rekindled, but reformed and renewed.
There have been times when we’ve been separated by loss or conflict or situations beyond our control. There are seasons, also, for new and burgeoning relationships and opportunities, when love is replenished and the loneliness in our hearts finds a deeper resolve. Never to reject those feelings that are awkward and awful; these give context to feelings of abundance and meaning.
There is something incredibly redemptive in the hope reclaimed by faith, that, from the other side, we see looking back with introspection.
Having recovered, we see not only that we did it, and how we did it; faith gives us eyes for how we’ve also been enriched for the experience. Recovery is the truth of redemption in a living soul and blessed are those who experience this grace.
We’re never glad to have been there in the thick of the fog, but we’re always glad to see (again) with fresh vision. Having been in the thick of the fog, we see just how dark life can get; which educates us and expands the borders of our perspective, deepens our capacity for empathy, and widens our ability and willingness to offer care.
What is required to heal? How do we bring that time forward, if we can?
By remembering. Through words in Scripture. Through revelation. Through friends and mentors and loved ones. Through an image. Through the path of one thing to another, as we’re led by God’s Spirit.
Whenever we’ve been on the sad or mad end of things for long enough, there’s just a moment forward of that location where something new comes in.
The topography of one soul’s experience is like this: deserts give way to oases.
If there’s a time to heal, there’s a time for perspective, especially as we return to the truth that we best accept this life and its foibles the best we can. There’s an instant and sustainable portion of peace in that. As we remain there, in the locale of soul stillness.
And from peace, from rest, from the glory of a reset perspective, we have the wherewithal to advocate and do more of God’s good work… with hope and joy abounding, the work ahead is easier and even more doable.
I’m always encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 12:10, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:30 that he himself was often imperilled. Even as he ministered to the churches in their weakness, he led them with integrity in his own weakness. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable. He didn’t see it as a disqualifier for ministry, and indeed, Paul shows us, as Jesus also did, it’s a prerequisite.
Paul shows us the way to redeem our breakdowns.
When we’re vulnerable, we follow the way of Jesus.
Henri Nouwen (1932 – 1996) reminded me recently that ‘vulnera’ (Latin) means ‘wound’. It takes courage to live wounded. It’s only as we live wounded that we bear the power to heal.
When we’re vulnerable, we practice wounded healing.
Paul shows us how to live the vulnerability of Jesus — who came into this world and died vulnerable and was very often vulnerable before the religious elite. To follow Jesus is to follow his way of vulnerable living. It ought to be no surprise, then, when God heals us and others because of our and their weakness.
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I am exhausted…
I think so many of us are.
We don’t even realize how tired we are from all the stress of this past year.
And then the events of yesterday happened at the capital in DC!
We so want to turn the calendar page and have all things be made new!
Yet there is this knowing that it isn’t true.
Yes, there is hope!
Yes, there is a vaccine on the way.
Yes, we get a new president for my birthday on the 20th.
But we truly are exhausted.
Our bodies know it, even if our minds still cannot comprehend it.
Our souls know it, too.
Our hearts are crying out for time to just be still.
But it’s the New Year and life is beginning again post-holiday breaks.
Today, as I prayed while I made my coffee,
I prayed for all my friends who are parents who are starting a new semester with their kids…
Many online AGAIN.
Many still all together day after day.
And I prayed for all my friends who are teachers…
Some back in the classroom in the midst of the pandemic concerned for their health.
And others teaching on the screen which is totally NOT why they got into education.
They want to be with the students face to face, not struggling to get them to actually turn on their cameras!
I’m praying for healthcare workers of all sorts! The exhaustion they feel, the frustration they know, the suffering they see everyday, while people “out there’ are still denying reality and still arguing over masks.
It’s time to open another gift.
It’s Epiphany so gifts can continue in honor of the Magi.
I want us all to take a breath.
To pause long enough to see the reality of our fatigue.
To realize that each of us are so much more than what we accomplish each day.
We are truly valuable even if we never produce or do anything.
We are that treasure that God looks for in that field.
I’d like us all to actually OPEN the gift of REST.
Not just look at the pretty packaging and the wouldn’t it be nice ribbon around it. But turn off the phone, and put down the remote and OPEN UP REST!
It’s been a very long year.
Our bodies, minds and souls need the space and time to heal.
What would it look like for you to actually open the gift of REST in 2021?
Even if you just took the lid off in January, what would that be like?
Could you give yourself permission to go to bed early?
Could you allow yourself a nap? Or a long bath?
Could you plan an afternoon away from the tv and the computer and even the phone?
Could REST become the spiritual practice you are looking for to help connect you back to Jesus this year?
Take a look at the package, the box the gift of rest is in.
Notice there is a card on top.
Don’t put the card aside for later and just rip open the package.
Open the card.
READ IT… Wow, there is a gift card just for you!
You (your name) are given PERMISSION to REST in 2021!
No way to do this wrong.
It’s a PERMISSION SLIP to allow you to REST and to practice REST in 2021!
REST also needs a place on your calendar.
For me, I’m re-uping my sabbath practice of turning off social media from Friday night to Sunday morning… we have church community gathering on Sunday night so I need to communicate. But I need the mental break from the news, comments, and competition I often feel online.
Create a time… start with 15 minutes… you can do ANY THING for 15 minutes. What would 15 minutes of real rest look like? Feel like?
Create a place… do you need a new pillow, a fluffy throw blanket, a new mug and some good tea to help you rest?
Or would new pens, markers and a blank book help you rest?
Or a hammock if you can be outside where you live?
Just like every spiritual practice… REST takes practice…
Create your practice.
I didn’t grow up with REST as a practice.
I grew up with a dad who came home from his job and worked more on the farm.
He got up on Saturday with a list a mile long for us to help work on…
Rest wasn’t a practice or a value, it was all about performance. So I’ve had to unlearn performance and really practice RESTING… Stopping… Receiving the gift of Sabbath and REST!
Help your kids learn to rest. They can learn that it’s gift from God for them to open too!
Jesus never burned out! He did get tired and when he saw his disciples were tired from ministry, he got them away from the crowds and got them to seek rest!
(Often this rest got interrupted, and yours might too, but do not give up!) #restisHOLY
And you may think you haven’t accomplished enough to rest, you may say, but “I’ve still got piles everywhere and decorations to put away and laundry to do”… put those thoughts away… remember Jesus’s invitation to experience the unforced rhythms of grace….
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30
You still can open the Gift of REST!
It’s still for you from Jesus …
post and photo by Diane Woodrow, View from the Little Orme. My last photo of 2020.
I hope we are kinder to you, 2021, than we have been to 2020. We have spoken harshly about the last year when all it did was tell its story. In fact, it did all it had to do. In January, we cried out, “2020 the time of perfect vision” and then we did not like what it showed us so we cried “begone”. Yet, it could not go until its time was spent.
2020 showed us things in our world that we need to change – the fragility of our health service, of our government having to make sound-bites and snap decisions. In fact, it showed that most of our government is out of touch with regular people, not understanding that there are too many that, once their pay-checks decrease by a small amount, they are plunged into poverty. We saw this with the food handouts by Unicef, the increase in foodbanks, having to have a footballer tell those in power that children needed feeding even in the school holidays. We were showed the deep-held racism in our land, the class divides, the divisions of the principalities that make up the United Kingdom. We also saw the support that there was between people and the care as communities came together. We also saw how selfishly we all were as we bemoaned not being able to go where we pleased and do what we wanted. We realised how much we needed each other and how much we do miss our friends and family. We saw how much we compare ourselves to other nations and ran down our leaders and then wonder why they do not perform and were always working to try to please the crowd.
All these things and much, much more 2020 and its mandate, Perfect Vision, were revealed over the last 365 days. So why did we bemoan it? What did it do wrong? For me, I would like to honour 2020, to say that yes, there were too many things I did not like in it, too many losses, changes, deaths and more, but also there were good things, great things, deep and amazing changes that went on. Can we say 2021 will be different? I do not yet know what its mandate is. But all I can say is that I would like to be able to honour it when it has spent its 365 days with me and see both the good and the bad, the things I can control and the things I cannot, and know that everyday things are unfolding as things have unfolded over all the years since man first stood tall and walked this earth.
So bless you 2020 and may you rest in peace. Welcome 2021 and let us walk together and just see what will occur.
Original post taken from Aspirational Adventures – Used with permission.
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by Carol Dixon
A few years ago, our nativity play was enlivened by a small boy who had been running around getting in the way until one of the Junior Church leaders persuaded him to watch for the wise men. While the rest of the action took place on the stage, he kept his eyes firmly on the door at the back and when the three kings started to process down the aisle he leapt up in delight, flung his arms in the air shouting, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming!’ to the congregation. And as the procession got nearer to the front, he rushed up on stage shouting to the angels and shepherds ‘Look, they’re coming’, then across to Mary and Joseph still calling out in excitement, ‘They’re coming’ and his spontaneous joy infected the whole congregation.
In the Eastern orthodox churches, they celebrate Christmas on 6 January because they think the story isn’t complete until the arrival of the Wise Men so their nativity plays usually take place at Epiphany rather than before Christmas and one year for our service on the first Sunday in January, I wrote an Epiphany nativity called ‘Late arrivals’. (You might like to imagine the scene as you read it through.)
Late Arrivals: A sketch for Epiphany
Dramatis personae: Interviewer; 3 kings, 1 ‘Star’. Enter 3 kings following a young person carrying star on top of a pole.
Interviewer: You’re a bit late for the nativity play. That was weeks ago.
King 1: Well, we had a bit of bother getting here. (Glares at star) We seemed to have been following a wandering star!
Interviewer: You certainly made enough noise. I thought you must be arriving on Harley Davidsons.
King 2: No, just the usual way; camels.
Interviewer: Camels? It doesn’t mention camels in the Bible story.
King 3 (defensively): Well, maybe not, but they’re still the best way to cross the desert. They don’t need much to drink and they know where they’re going (glaring at the star).
Interviewer (sarcastically): More than you seem to anyway. You’re meant to be wise men. Not very wise heading straight for Herod. I thought you had a star to guide you?
King 1 (sheepishly): It got a bit cloudy towards the end of the journey.
King 2 (wearily): We’d been travelling for ages.
King 3 (lamely): And a palace seemed the obvious place to look for a baby king.
King 1: We never imagined he’d be born in an outhouse!
King 2: And in any case, WE didn’t know Herod was horrid.
Interviewer: I thought Everybody knew Herod was horrid!
King 3: It was a genuine mistake.
Interviewer (aside): Some mistake!
King 1 (shortly): We can’t be right all the time.
King 2 (apologetically): We didn’t mean to cause any trouble.
King 3: We weren’t to know Herod was going to kill off all the likely candidates for kingship.
Interviewer: I thought you guys could read the stars and tell everyone’s fortunes – see into the future.
King 1: If we could have foreseen the future we would have foreseen our sore feet
King 2: And realised how long it would take us.
King 3: And have some idea of the way back home.
Interviewer: You mean you wish you hadn’t come – that you’d never started on this journey?
King 1: Of course we’re glad we came. It’s just…
King 2: We didn’t know what to expect….
King 3: A baby born in a poor part of town….
King 1: Who transformed our lives…
King 2: Exceeded our expectations….
King 3: And made us realise that the journey goes on…..
Star grins at them, and sets off with the kings following.
(Song by Sheila Hamil from ‘the Christmas Story). Used with permission
For me, the Star is the star of the story. Even though the wise men managed to get themselves lost, it was still there to guide them to Jesus if they had looked in the right direction. So often in the bustle & busyness of Christmas and New Years, we let our attention wander and focus on the wrong things instead of looking for the light which will lead us to Jesus. This year, I have been reading the wonderful Advent book Lean Towards the Light this Advent & Christmas by Christine Sine and Lisa DeRosa and I have found all the different reflections by Godspacelight writers in it so helpful in getting me focused on looking upwards to the heavens rather than keeping my eyes on the ground. As a child, I loved stargazing which was very easy to do in a country town like Alnwick in Northumberland since our street lights were always switched off at midnight and if I woke in the night I would look out of my bedroom window to see if I could count the stars. I never managed to do it but I knew there were lots of them.
I sometimes use Christmas stars to help me to pray. I make a bunch of cardboard stars and cover them with glitter on one side. On the bare side, I write the name of a person or situation I know to be in need of prayer, then I hang the star on the Christmas tree and each time I see it, I remember to pray for that person. When I take the tree down on 6 January I use the stars as prayer cards which I then send it to the person mentioned to let them know they have been in my prayers.
One of my favourite Epiphany carols is Sydney Carter’s ‘Every star shall sing a carol’ and when my sons were teenagers they recorded a rather different version of it.
(Music performed by Simon & Colin Dixon; Sung by Carol Dixon)
What star will you follow this year, I wonder?
Today is the day before Epiphany. The day before the church calendar celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men visiting Jesus. Some days before a big day are marked – like New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. But some days aren’t. The day just happens.
I wonder how those Wise Men felt on the night before they found this king they’d seen predicted in the stars. I’m thinking that on Epiphany Eve they were feeling a bit confused. They made their way to Herod’s palace and got a cryptic message from him as he tried to cover up for the fact that he didn’t know a king had been born in his province. I’m sure they were pondering their encounter with this man and his words. Herod, even though portrayed in church tradition, as a tyrant, was actually a great leader. He build extensively, not just palaces for himself, but aqueducts, theatres and public buildings, and generally raised the prosperity of the land. I think the Wise men would have been perplexed that this leader, who was well connected through the known world, did not know of this king that they had seen predicted in the stars that would change the course of history.
Not much is known about the backstory of the Wise men. No one knows for sure where they came from or what status they held in their own land. We don’t even know how many of them there were or how big a retinue they came with. All they get is a handful of verses in gospel of Matthew and one day in Anglican and Catholic church traditions to look into them.
Our church has a tradition associated with Epiphany where letters are chalked on the church door. Last year they read – 20+C+M+B+20. The initials C, M, B are for the traditional names of the Three Kings. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, but also in Greek translation can stand for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this dwelling.” But it is a bit like a code. Until you are in with the “in crowd” you haven’t got a clue what those letters mean. But I think this is so relevant for the coming of the Wise men.
The Wise men weren’t part of the in crowd, either in the land of Palestine or within the Jewish tradition. They were as much outsiders as the shepherds. The shepherds were despised within their community but at least they knew how the community worked, whereas the Wise men, because of their wealth would have been viewed with respect and would have been honoured, but they were on the outside of something they did not understand. The person they had expected to support and lead them, Herod, had let them down and had sent them on their way with a vague description of where to go and what to expect, but had left them to it. They were camped at the end of a small nondescript town where Herod had sent them. I wonder how they felt?
So today, on Epiphany Eve, imaging being in your expensive Bedouin tent [imagine your equivalent of]. You’re with your friends but you’re not sure where you are going. You’re not at the place you expected to be. You also know it is one of those places where everyone knows everyone. You can tell that from looking at it. But the sign that brought you here, this big star, is still telling you this is the way walk in it. Personalise it and think about how many times you’ve stood on the edge of something you don’t quite know what it was but you know you have to keep pressing forward.
We are just five days into 2021 with the US about to enter a new presidency, the UK being out of Europe with the deal we have to now make work, with the vaccine being given to more and more people and things lifting but lockdowns continuing, not knowing what the world economy will look like and the East saying they’re doing alright. For many, there are exams and schooling to ponder how it will work out, babies being born, weddings happening, futures out there waiting to happen, but still there is waiting and not knowing, but we all have to walk forward.
As we didn’t know this time last year what this Covid virus would really mean to the world so the Wise men did not really know what awaited them in Bethlehem. But they followed, and they waited, and they arrived, and they gave their gifts, even though that must have seemed weird. But just for today they waited on the outskirts and pondered the journey they had been on and what their destination would look like. So at times, we also stand on the edge and wait and ponder but we must place our hand in God’s and keep on keeping on.
This poem seems more appropriate this year than it has for a long time:
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”
By Minnie Louise Haskins
So let us walk into the unknown, find God’s hand and walk gladly no matter what comes this year.