Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

Advertisements

Jesus Made Me a Gryffindor

Sorry, Reader; end of fiscal year + end of summer term + sermon writing for Sunday = late post.

So if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, I apologize right off for how many references this post is going to have that you won’t understand.  I am definitely part of the generation that grew up with Harry, so my geekery is pretty strong for that.  This past week, new information came out about the North American school (since Hogwarts, where Harry goes, is in Britain and we can’t all go to Britain) Ilvermorny.

Now if you don’t know, Hogwarts has four houses (since it’s a boarding school) and each new student is sorted into one based on his/her personal characteristics.  Ravenclaws are generally The Smart Kids; Slytherins are generally The Cunning Kids; Hufflepuffs are The Loyal Kids; and Gryffindors are The Brave Kids.  Of course each house has its downsides as well as its lauded attributes, but we fans have for years aligned ourselves via various online quizzes with our own houses.  I consistently get Sorted (that’s the choosing process; it’s done by a hat and you seriously need to read this series if you haven’t, Reader) into Gryffindor, which always surprises me.  I think I’ve said it before, but I’d consider myself brainy way before I’d consider myself brave.

So I took a quiz on these new houses for this new school because hey, why not?  And I got Thunderbird, the soul of the school and the house claiming the adventurers.

Wait, what?  I’m not adventurous any more than I am brave.

Yet for all my introspection, I’m apparently not paying attention to myself at all.  I had lunch Friday with my friend Prudence and had an incredible conversation with him about who we are and who we’re going to be as our lives are no longer intertwined with my moving and whatnot.  He’s a beautiful soul, but he’s also a guy who told me I was brave probably five times over the course of the conversation.  And people regularly tell me I’m adventurous, what with wandering off to Scotland without a whole lot of preparation or driving all over the country for weddings or wading into Church politics.

But the thing of it is that none of that is my natural inclination.  All of that comes out of leaping into the places God pushes me.

People have been joking with me about my going off to seminary and how the location and requirements are going to be outside of my comfort zone and I want to say to them that every time I leave my apartment I have left my comfort zone.  My comfort zone is my church and my house and that’s about it, and even those are negotiable to a certain extent.  But God continually calls me to more than those to places—and to crazy things within those two places.  Interpreter talks sometimes about God’s desire to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” so it makes perfect sense in its own way that God challenges me over and over to go into the world that doesn’t make sense, that is filled with heartbreaking things, that both frightens and depresses the crickets out of me.  We as Christians are not called to be afraid of the dark but to bring the light to a shadowed world—and that takes a shit ton of bravery and no small amount of adventurousness.

This isn’t to say that the other houses, either American or British, are less than Gryffindor or Thunderbird.  It is, however, to say that I am not in either because I am inherently brave or adventurous.  I am in these (make-believe though they are) because I am being changed, I have been changed by a God Who needs me to be brave and adventurous in order to do whatever She has in mind for me.  I don’t know what that is—oh, how I wish I did!—but I do know that wherever I am sent, I will be equipped.  Whatever courage I need will be given; whatever shape my spirit needs to be in will be remolded.  And slowly, slowly I will take on these attributes so they are who I am, so that they do become my response because I have been cheering for my House long enough that I mean it and can see those aspects of me in Christ’s service.

The next thing, of course, is to campaign for actual house competitions.  What house are you, Reader?  (Of either country.)  What attributes does that give you?  How does it—or doesn’t it—surprise you?  How do you translate that strength into God’s service?  I would love to know.  After all, lions are just big cats, and cats are curious creatures.

 

 

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.  The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  (Deuteronomy 31:7-8, NIV)

People of the Books: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Hullo, Reader!  Thanks for your patience with me in my not warning you I’d be dropping off the radar last week; I had a conference last weekend (and also confirmation at church), so I wasn’t able to get to this.  But I’m back now (albeit a day late)—happy Saturday!  Have a book review!

Quo Vadis (which has apparently been made into a movie that I’m going to have to see now) is another of those books that somehow magically made it into my library when I wasn’t paying attention.  I have no memory of buying this or being given it, but I know I’ve moved it from at least one place to another with me.  In my great I Have to Read All These Books Before I Move Them Again project (yeah, it’s not going well; Reader, I own a lot of books) I finally decided to sit down with this one.

I must say, it was slow going at first.  Sienkiewicz doesn’t pull punches in how he sets up the story; he expects you to keep up as he throws you into 60s A.D. Rome under the craziness of Nero’s rule.  But stick with it; once you get situated in the overwhelming city (fortunately, my version had a map at the back so I could follow Sienkiewicz’s characters talking about where things were), you realize this is a pretty epic story.

The basic premise is that Marcus Vinicius, a nobleman of one of the ancient families and a decorated soldier now hanging about in Rome, falls in love with a gal named Ligia.  Add in the complication—Ligia is a Christian.  This is a time when Christianity was kept on the downlow because it wasn’t outright illegal but it definitely wasn’t liked, so Ligia’s faith is already questionable but also it’s a totally foreign idea to Vinicius.  He has all the power and wealth he could want; why on earth would someone want to follow a faith that tells you to give up stuff like that?  Foolishness.

So with this very simple plot, off we go.  Of course it gets more complicated; it’s set against the backdrop of Nero, who was batshit crazy and a half.  Petronius, Vinicius’s uncle, is one of Nero’s advisors (of a sort) and through his eyes we get to see the court falling apart as Nero loses touch with reality more and more.  The main punch of the book is when Rome gets set on fire, which Sienkiewicz described brilliantly, hauntingly, and horrifyingly.  For a city that large and that flammable to catch fire would indeed have been a sight for the ages, but the amount of people it displaced for the whims of a mad emperor is just staggering.

And then Nero blames it on the Christians—cue lions, torture, gore, and all of the awful debauchery that Rome could offer.  We of the 21st century are scary good at causing pain, but we have nothing on Rome.  They were terrifying in the amounts of ways they concocted to kill people; it’s even reflected in the language.  There are over thirty different verbs for “to kill” in ancient Latin.

I do try to correct folks when they think everything from Jesus to Constantine was lions eating Christians because that isn’t true.  Wide-scale persecution was relatively rare; most of the time Christians were mistrusted and ignored or simply thrown in jail for a while.  But sometimes they became scapegoats of epic proportions, and Sienkiewicz does a fantastic job of capturing how frightening and overwhelming that would be.  And one of the best parts about this book is that it makes you look at Christianity itself all over again.

Christianity is so completely embedded in modern Western culture we simply can’t look around without seeing it.  But when it was new and weird and secretive and still being ironed out—I don’t want to romanticize that at all, but I do love reading stories that make me remember it.  This is a time where there aren’t written stories but instead you would hear the Gospel from Peter himself (yeah, Peter and Paul have bit parts in this; it’s pretty awesome because I’m always ready to have them be ornery humans with their own doubts and fears, not knowing how much they would become pillars of the Church).  This is a time when there are the earliest of hymns, when people were still using the fish (ichthus) to identify each other, when books like Revelation make sense because people really did think Jesus was coming back any day because surely the world was tearing itself apart at the seams.

Sienkiewicz definitely has an angle—Nero bad, Christians good—but this isn’t at all a religion pitch.  He returns over and over again to how hard it is to be part of this faith and how different the early version of it was compared to what we know.  And the remarkable thing is that he was writing at the turn of the 20th century yet you can tell his heart is in the history of this rather than any attempts to convert the reader (of course, he would likely have assumed all of his readers would have been Christian already anyway).  Some of the characters don’t get Christianity and end the book still not getting it and yet being fully themselves, and five million points to an author who respects his/her characters enough not to try and force them into conversion moments.  My only real problem with characterization is in how Sienkiewicz talks about Ursus, Ligia’s bodyguard; a lot of the language there is very much about how this barbarian (they’re political hostages from a northern kingdom) is so very slow and more brawn than brains.  That caught me up several times because it’s so bald, but Ursus was still a real and marvelous character who actually stands in for the reader sometimes when we’re trying to understand what’s going on.  He also becomes a paradigm of loyalty and an example to be followed.

There is violence and sex and this is not for the faint of heart, Reader, but it is well worth the time, especially in this more modern translation (mad props to W. S. Kuniczak).  It’s a great story as well as a really well-written imagining of the early days of Christianity. I’ll definitely be keeping this on hand.

 

Rating:  4.5/5 stars  People of the Books:  Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills

 

Always, Always Learning

I am super educated.

I have a master’s degree in an esoteric field that most people equate with renaissance festivals.  I’m about to go get another master’s degree because, like potato chips, you can never have just one.  On one side of my family, mine is the first generation in three to have people who stopped going to school after their bachelor’s degrees.  With this kind of education comes a horrendous bias that I fight far less often than I should.

This past Sunday I went to the graduation party of a former student of mine.  She befriended me on Facebook after her semester in my class and still maintains mine was her favorite of the whole degree and that I was her favorite teacher.  We’ve kept in a distant sort of touch as she finished her schoolwork and I was surprised but delighted at her invitation to this celebration.  I bickered with myself until I got in my car on whether or not I was going to attend, but go I did—if nothing else, I wanted the connection to my old life of academia after a long weekend of church politics and procedures.  I also remembered how much it had meant to me when some of my teachers had attended my high school graduation party and wanted to be able to be that for this student, if possible.

She lives, I discovered as I wound my way through various country roads, in what is not affectionately called trailer country, a series of broken-down double-wides huddling amidst yards full of goggle-eyed chickens and rusted-out cars and gathered detritus.  This was the type of living, more than any other, that I was taught to fear growing up.  Get educated, I was told; make something of yourself so you don’t wind up stuck here with the trailer trash.

My heart breaks, Reader, to even admit these things to myself, let alone you.  I have since known dear friends who wound up in trailers for whatever reason; I have had family who made their way in their double-wides.  But the initial prejudice remains, and I as searched my way down the row of mailboxes looking for my student’s house, I hated the running judgment in the back of my mind.

At the party—just past the tarp-covered car on cinder blocks and the knot of people in faded t-shirts chain-smoking e-cigs—I met my student, a vibrant and hilarious young woman in a bright dress who hugged me fiercely and offered me sweet tea.  She introduced me to her father as a kindred spirit of geekery and we talked for some time.  Her father is, indeed, a delightful man and we swapped favorite post-apocalyptic books and talked about the film Kingdom of Heaven and how well-choreographed the battle scenes in Troy were.  He shared his amazement at the rise of acceptance of nerd culture in the last decade and I spoke of being able to connect with my students by knowing their references.  My student introduced me to her boyfriend and we talked about Star Wars and the university where I work and being incredibly socially awkward at these sorts of blind gatherings.  My student told me of what she plans to do and how she’s waiting a year before applying to master’s degree programs and I stood in their double-wide trailer with its clean and spare decor and this bright woman figuring out her way in the world and I felt so utterly humbled.

It is so easy for me, with my alphabet soup of degrees and my history of being The Smart Kid, to assign a lack of intelligence or drive or humanity to people in the trailer country.  We as a society don’t help because we continually portray people in those situations as trailer trash, as rednecks, as all manner of insults we save for those we deem uncultured and poor in various ways.  But this—this assumption is my sin, is my moment of standing with a cup of sweet tea and hearing God ever-so-gently tell me to get off my high horse because these, too, are God’s people.

I’ve had various people speculate as to what kind of church the bishop will assign me when I finish seminary, but several have said that it had better not be rural because I would be bored out of my mind.  I need the intellectual stimulation, I am told, and that may be right.  But far be it from me to tell God that I cannot serve in trailer country because they aren’t as smart as I am, because they won’t understand my sermons, because I am in some sense too good for that kind of a congregation.  What arrogance!  What foolishness!  Did my student’s father need to have read the Iliad (in English or its original Greek) to discuss film battle scenes with me?  Did he need to understand the liberties taken with the historical accounts of the crusades to speak of the power of his favorite movie?  Of course not.

I will never say that knowing these things is bad or that education is too much; it both angers and saddens me that we in the church almost fear education sometimes in the way that we talk about our faith and its history.  I delight in having read the Iliad, delight in learning Greek, delight in telling the stories of the crusades because we should never shy away from the richness of all that has come before, both good and bad.  But my knowing these things should never, ever give me license to forget that those who don’t know—and even, though it pains me to say it, those who don’t care—are still children of God.  God loves each of us, even those in trailer country, even those with several degrees, even those with a yard full of chickens and trash.

God is for all.  God is with all.  God loves all.  And I have no right to say that I am more loved or valuable than another.  Ever.

Thank you for teaching me, student, however unintentionally.

 

 

Were you born the first Adam,
    brought forth before the hills?
Did you listen in God’s council;
    is wisdom limited to you?
What do you know that we don’t know;
    what do you understand that isn’t among us?  (Job 15:7-9, CEB)

Lent, Week Five: Marriage

So I’m not gonna lie, it is not-so-secretly nearly every clergyperson’s hope that s/he will get to perform a wedding with these lines at some point because they’re hilarious.  (And if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride and don’t understand this, you now have an assignment for Movie Friday.)

But marriage itself isn’t terribly funny.  I myself am unmarried, so everything I have to say about the institution is secondhand.  But I do have a lot to say about it; don’t worry, I won’t go into diatribe mode here.  I’m also not going anywhere near defining marriage; I believe it should involve no more and no fewer than two entities and that both of those entities should be adult, consenting humans.  Beyond that, I myself am still working through how I understand the relationship and do not wish to take this particular platform to start that conversation.

This is another of the sacraments that’s only a sacrament for Catholics (there also known as “holy matrimony”), and I think that shows in many of the ways we talk about marriage as a culture.  I’ve watched an awful lot of marriages fail, some pretty spectacularly, in my life.  I’ve been to and in an alarming number of weddings.  I have quite a storehouse of advice from watching for so many years, but no experience.  All that I have is humanity.

The thing about this sacrament is that it means a lot to me as a sacred thing precisely because I am unmarried, precisely because I have only watched it.  Our relationship with God is primary, must be primary, in life.  But secondary?  The spouse.  This is a contract of the highest order; legally and morally you are binding yourself to another person.  That’s…that’s kind of a big deal.  Look at the very language (that, admittedly, is rather out of fashion now, but still often used):

I…take you…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.

Until death do you part.  Is it any wonder that this is considered sacred, a holy rite of the Church, when Death Itself is on the line?  And this is a contract through everything—through sickness and poverty and health and wealth and the in-laws and the children and the inability to have children and the new house and the old car and the retirement adjustment and the outrageous habit of never quite closing the refrigerator.  Marriage is every day deciding that this person is still the one you choose as spouse.

This is not to say that there are never grounds for divorce.  I absolutely believe that some couples should not stay together—again, I have watched some pretty phenomenally dangerous marriages tear themselves to shreds and I rejoice that those people are no longer together.  There are people who make us worse versions of ourselves and we should not be married to them.  There are also people who tell us that we are worse versions of ourselves, people who control and abuse and torment, and we should not be married to them, either.  (As a note of human and slightly pastoral concern, if you are in this secondary kind of relationship, please do not hesitate to seek help.  Find a trusted friend around you, find a shelter; you may even leave me a comment here if you wish, as no comments are posted until I review them and post them myself.  If you have no one else and get me that message, I promise I will not publish it but will most certainly try to help in whatever way I am able.)

But much of what we file in the overflowingly messy legal drawer of “irreconcilable differences” as we burn our marriage licenses is an exhaustion of relationship.  Relating to another is hard.  Relating to another with sex involved and money and life and possibly kids and a history is way harder.  How can I possibly stand a lifetime with him when he doesn’t understand…?  How can I be expected to grow old with her when she doesn’t listen to…?

Yet God calls us to relationship.  God is Himself a relational God, living constantly in the Trinity connected to God’s self and also in relationship with us, Her creations.  God manifested in human form to further cement the ability to relate, to be connected to us that deeply.  So when we stand before God and say I take this man/woman to be my life partner and offer him/her all of who I am, do we say these words in truth?  Do we weigh them carefully, knowing the holy space in which we stand with this other and this Other, wrapping ourselves in the words of promise?  Do we accept the covenant of deepest relationship with a fellow human, refusing to give up on this pairing of imperfect people?

I do hope so, Reader.  And I hope that if I ever stand in that space, I will feel that weight, heavier and more beautiful even than gold.

 

 

“So they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”  (Mark 10:8b-9, CEB)

When Man Is an Island

Happy day before Halloween, Reader!  My apologies for dropping off of the radar last week without telling you; that day did not at all turn out as I planned, which meant I didn’t make it to writing to you.  It’s been like that more days than not, recently.

Which is why my little introverted self is SO DAMN EXCITED about tomorrow, because I have nothing planned.  By this, I mean I have planned nothing; nothing is the plan.  I have turned down other things so that I can have a day of nothing.  I need to recharge but badly.  And it’s been interesting to see other people’s reactions to that.

So tomorrow is a holiday; I’m sitting at my desk in a dress and evening gloves, so you bet I’m aware of it.  But it’s not really my kind of holiday; it’s a holiday for kids to go ask for candy as though we’re not afraid of each other for this one night, it’s a holiday for parents to joke about who had the worst experience finding the right costume; it’s a holiday for college students to get super drunk in questionable clothing with each other and watch “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  It’s not really a holiday for people like me—which is not to say that I don’t like the holiday or that I couldn’t gather together some friends and go to a corn maze or have a movie marathon or something, because I realize that’s totally an option.  It’s to say that that takes a bit more maneuvering now than it did when I wasn’t a Professional Adult with a bunch of Friends With Kids.

And the thing of it is, I’m not complaining at all about that because it means I get to stay home and just chill tomorrow.  It’s so cool that society has taken lots of steps in the last decade or so to not only recognize but celebrate the gifts and differences introverts have to offer, but it still seems super weird to people that some of us need to just be in our own headspace.  I was talking to a friend the other day (who has several kids) and she asked what my Halloween plans were.  I said I was going to be home alone and she got so incredibly sad, as though it were a terrible thing that no one loved me enough to get together with me on the holiday.  It took quite a while to convince her that this was my choice and that I was not only okay with it but looking forward to it—and I’m still not sure she completely believed me.

It’s funny (in the “interesting” way, not the comical one) that this should be on my mind today because Interpreter and I recently had a…disagreement about things like this.  (I don’t know that we actually got into a fight, but I was pretty mad at him.)  Especially as I get deeper into the process of getting into professional ministry (I’ve started my seminary applications!  I’m totally terrified of this!), he keeps reminding me to establish and hold boundaries now so I don’t run into not having them when I need them.  This is a good reminder and a good thing for him to do as a friend, but sometimes I feel people don’t give me credit for the boundaries I do have.  So the “funny” part comes from this push-and-pull of people telling me to turn things down more often but then being concerned when I have a day of nothing that I jealously guard.

I’m making this bigger than it actually is; most people have merely been a little skeptical but totally cool with my delight in having this one day off tomorrow.  I’m just very aware of the both/and of this, the human tendency to say “I know you’re busy, but…”  And I’m also aware of how much I need this day; I’ve been extroverting pretty intensely for a while now, and while I really appreciate the connections that have been made and the opportunities enjoyed, I’m drained.  One of the ways I can always tell when I need to recharge is where my ability to write is; NaNoWriMo starts Sunday, and I honestly couldn’t manage a poem right now.

It’s a pretty well-preached concept of Jesus needing to go away to pray and recharge and how the people would follow Him even there, such that He was sometimes forced to get into a boat or something just to have some downtime.  Fortunately (for many, many, many reasons), I’m not Jesus and I don’t have quite that much difficulty separating myself from others, but I get that.  I get that it is okay and even necessary to take a deep breath in a space where you don’t have to be anything to or for anyone, where the only pain or joy or secrets you have to carry are your own, where you can be fully who you are in front of God Who knows you anyway.

Even, Heaven forbid, on a holiday.  Bring on the Ghostbusters marathon.  We’ll rebuild the bridge to other people on Sunday.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place and prayed there.  (Mark 1:35, ISV)

I’ve Just Had an Apostrophe

If you’ve never seen the Robin Williams/Dustin Hoffman awesomeness that is Hook, track it down and watch it.  Laugh uproariously when the truly wonderful Bob Hoskins says the above line.

What he means is “epiphany,” which is “a moment of sudden revelation or insight.”  It’s also a Christian holiday that falls on this coming Tuesday and officially ends the Christmas season.  (That’s right, technically we’re still in Christmas—that’s where the 12 Days of Christmas concept comes in, because Epiphany falls 12 days after the holiday proper.  Take that argument to your altar guild when they want to take down the poinsettias before the first of the year, hah.)

Epiphany is definitely one of the secondary holidays of the Church year with some murky beginnings (you can look them over at the Catholic Encyclopedia, where the answer “we don’t really know” is given in some of the best scholastic jargon around).  This may be because the Eastern and Western churches have had, shall we say, a rocky relationship and Rome wasn’t all that keen on borrowing “Eastern” holidays, or it may be because it took so long for anyone to figure out exactly what the point of the holiday was.  (Man, I love church history.)  The long and short of it, though, is that this is now considered the day when the Magi get to reach the nativities in living rooms all over the world (except mine, because I never got around to setting mine up this year—for shame, I know) and Jesus and the Gentiles (represented by the terribly not-Jewish Magi) hang out and introduce themselves.

I don’t know how “sudden” 12 days is, but this is the revelation:  hey everybody, this Kid’s for you.

As a Gentile, I’m pretty happy about that.  (I think there may actually be some Jewish blood several generations back, but once we got to the States, the families pretty much agreed never to speak of Ye Olde Eurasia Land.)  So this holiday, beyond allowing me to switch the altar cloth from blue/purple to white/gold, gives me an entrance ticket to the possibilities of this Kingdom ushered in by this Baby we just spent four weeks preparing for.

I’m relatively new to this holiday, despite having grown up with Catholicism in the mix of denominations around the house(s), but I like the idea.  I like that we have Christmas, on which the outrageous scandal of a God born as a human baby happens, and then we have this next holiday on which we get to focus on the outrageous scandal of that baby God having been born for everybody.  The nativity, once the Magi have arrived with their mostly useless but fancy presents, represents the fact that this new Kingdom ushered in by this crazy God is for all—Joseph of David’s line for the hardcore Jews, Mary for the womenfolk, the Magi for the non-Jewish humans, the shepherds for the lower classes, the animals for the whole of creation, all gather to marvel at this new mewling boy that will somehow change the world.

Talk about faith.

But we, in the 21st century, get to know that He did change the world.  Whether you believe all the things people say about Jesus or not, you have to admit He did pretty much shake things up; the West would not be the West without the general concept of Him.  (And in some ways that might be better, to be honest, but that’s because we’re human and we suck at interpretation and kindness sometimes.)

So Epiphany falls on a Tuesday this year, which is a pretty unremarkable day in my life.  I know friends of mine will be having choir rehearsal, and maybe some other friends will be gathering for games, and we’ll all of us be going to work, and hopefully I will bully myself into doing the dishes that are probably soon going to gain sentience in my kitchen.  Mundane—but then, this thing of which we’re mindful was a baby born in a stable; perhaps not mundane, but most definitely unremarkable.

Except that God makes even the most unremarkable things remarkable, if He has a mind to.  So, on Tuesday, take a minute to find the amazing parts of your life.  If you’re into the God-thing, find the God in your life, or in yourself.  If you’re not so much down with that, just find the moments where you can stop and say, “Damn.  This life thing is kind of incredible.”  Let me know about it; I’d love to hear where that happens for you.  I’d love to hear your epiphanies, Reader.

And your apostrophes.

 

And [the wise men], having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshiped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  (Matthew 2:9-11, ASV)