A New Season of Recognizing What Is Right in Front of Us
Stepping into Epiphany is always a mixed bag for me. January 6 means Christmastide is finished for another year. Now we are headed for Ash Wednesday, which comes late-ish this year, on February 17. In some ways, this particular shift in seasons is a relief—all the red around my house comes down and is packed away for another year. The ornaments are gathered off the tree, the candles stored in a cool place, the nativity sets stacked into a plastic bin, each baby Jesus safely tucked into secure packaging somewhere.
Although I don’t relish the work of lugging Christmas bins from house to garage, I do enjoy seeing the cleaner edges of my usual living space emerging from the red and gold lavishness of the holiday season.
I love Christmas, truly, I do. But I’m glad when it’s time to turn away from the celebrating and re-enter a more ordinary season. My capacity for holiday overload seems to have diminished with time!
This year, however, the change in seasons feels a bit more complicated. At one and the same time, it seems like something important is missing from my journey—and yet—it also feels like my life is full to the brim, over-the-top, even. Since my retirement from “official” parish ministry ten years ago, I have gladly embraced a more open schedule and relished monthly visits from an ever-changing list of people seeking spiritual direction, either here in my small study or via Facetime or Skype. I have also appreciated opportunities for reflective writing here and there. And since April 2019, I’ve been serving in a voluntary capacity as transitional pastor for congregational care for the community I once served as associate pastor.
…that sense that the baton is raised, but the downbeat has not been struck.
So, on one hand, there is plenty to do: people to listen to and care for, administrative tasks to be organized and completed, lots of notes to write, and phone calls to make. On the other hand, as the realities (and vicissitudes!) of age make themselves increasingly apparent, there is also a noticeable sense of emptiness. Maybe openness is a better word; I am open for more in my life. Not more to do, necessarily, but—maybe more to be.
The last time I entered this Epiphany season with such feelings was four years ago. At that time, I had a strong sense that my mother’s life was ebbing—and by April that year, she was gone. I found myself wondering about health issues for me, for my husband—and he went through several difficult times within the next 18 months. I also began to be more acutely aware that many of my lifelong friends and companions were aging right along with me. In these past four years, we have lost upwards of a dozen of those dear ones.
So I find myself pondering what comes next. It’s a little bit like that poignant moment at the beginning of an orchestral concert—that sense that the baton is raised, but the downbeat has not been struck. I do not know what is coming, yet I feel certain that something is on the way.
Epiphany is a season of beginnings, of newness, of the baton in the air, so to speak. It is also a season of particular reflection on the life of Jesus. We’ve come through Advent, remembering the birth, anticipating the coming again. In mid-February, we’ll enter into Lent and reflect more deeply on the final ministry of Jesus, that self-sacrificial offering of his suffering and death on our behalf.
During these six weeks of Epiphany, we are invited to reflect on those three years of walking-talking-praying-eating-feeding- cajoling-warning-blessing-exorcising-healing. Those years of dusty roads, personal encounters, laughter with friends, tears over the city, and lovely acts of compassion and healing.
But now during these six weeks of Epiphany, we are invited to reflect on those three years of walking-talking-praying-eating-feeding-cajoling-warning-blessing-exorcising-healing. Those years of dusty roads, personal encounters, laughter with friends, tears over the city, and lovely acts of compassion and healing.
The wedding story at the beginning of John’s gospel seems particularly appropriate for where we are right now—the story of water becoming wine at the word of Jesus. Jesus takes the ordinary stuff of the day—the water, reserved for rituals of cleansing—and speaks over it, transforming it into the best wine of the party. What was common became extraordinary; what was usual, became unique.
And that, I believe, is the heart of Epiphany: the great revealing, the dawning realization that everything around us is spectacular-waiting-to-be-recognized. One way of saying that is to accentuate the transformative part of that gospel story—taking the ordinary and making it special, changing what is common into something remarkable, the best being saved for last.
Another way to read it might be this: the real substance of life and light and joy and fulfillment is already here, right in front of us, just waiting to be seen. Those clay jars filled with water were always there, standing quietly on the sidelines. Perhaps they were simply waiting for Someone to see their potential, to say the words of life over them, and then to spread their delicious bounty with the gathered guests.
I want to remember that idea, to grab hold of it with hope and trust. I want to walk through this Epiphany believing that “the more” I am seeking is already here, right in front of me, just waiting for me to have eyes to see!
I mark another birthday this month, one step further into the eighth decade of my life: the last season. As I mark that milestone, I will be looking for a little wine somewhere along the way, the wine of transformation, change, newness; the ordinary in front of me that is just waiting to be seen for what it truly is.