The Day after Epiphany

Three are the precious gifts, of divine and mystic meaning, which the wise men offered to the Lord as upon this day: gold the power of the king betokeneth, mark ye how incense the high-priest sheweth, and myrrh the Lord’s burial.  Our salvation’s Author did the wise men worship in his cradle, and of their treasures they offered im gifts of mystic meaning …     –   Respond at Second Vespers of Epiphany Day 

After a quiet two weeks the school playground across from Saint Aidans rings with children’s voices.  “Children’s voices ringing” is a cliche but the pitch of children laughing and calling and shrieking and chattering actually sounds like bells to me.   I love bells, I love the Melrose change-ringing bells, and I love the sound of the kids on the playground.  I loved the quiet of school vacation but I’m excited that school is in session again.

In an almost-waking dream this morning I realized I need to provocatively “decorate” the chapel today so that on their way to the cafeteria the kids will wonder what worship will be about this week.  So I’ll drape the very long gold cloths (20′ curtain swags) over the altar and lectern, and maybe find three interesting boxes to represent the Magi’s gifts over purple, gold, and black fabric.   A homily began forming in my dream, evoking the Jewish mystical idea of the “sparks” dwelling within us, longing for the Source, the One.  Before time began, the Holy One withdrew into himself, creating space and then with a divine bursting forth of light, not unlike the Big Bang, that light rocketed through space, breaking into infinite shards throughout the universe.   Those divine “sparks” dwell in each of us, inciting that unspeakable longing to return to the One.   Whether this thought experiment will evolve into a children’s sermon for Thursday’s Eucharist, I don’t know.  I love having the relative leisure to watch thoughts develop and lead to other thoughts.  Nothing is ever wasted, even if an idea does not bear fruit.  It’s at least compost.

So the thought of compost made me think of farming, and farming to the unseasonable weather.  After bitter the cold over Christmas, it’s near 60 degrees today threatening the maple sugaring.   Sap pours from a few injured trees.   Bill is busy with the new bee hives and planning the chicken coop.   We’ve been eating brussels-sprouts and very sweet parsnips pulled out of the frozen ground.  And enjoying sauerkraut, frozen vegetables, beans, corn, jams and jellies put up in the summer and fall.     

All day today, a left over glow calls to mind yesterday’s Epiphany celebration.  At the Eucharist we processed from the kitchen to the chapel with the projects we’d worked on during creativity week, (part of the bee hive, office book, dream work and drawings, a crochet picture, a knitted prayer shawl, a knitted blanket, a calendar of photos, a book of recipes, a drum, a sermon,  a writing project, a flower arrangement) placing them at the altar.  Before the offertory hymn we presented the story behind our work to one another. 

After brunch we played “In Cahoots,” and rested until Vespers when we sang the gorgeous antiphons and Respond of Second Vespers of Epiphany, and a faux-bourdon Magnificat.   Then we gathered in the Great Room by the fire. 

We talked about the day, the offices, updates to the very silly murder mystery serial we’re posting to one another, finished off the marzipan Twelfth Cake, each of us hoping we’d get the gold coin planted inside so that we’d win a “treat” of our choosing redeemable at a time of our choosing.  The second to last piece of cake held the coin, and the sister who got it threatened a sabbatical for herself as her “treat.”  “Hey, it’s supposed to be a treat for the community,” someone protested.  “My sabbatical WOULD be a treat for the community!” she mugged.

Bill and I were also celebrating our “church wedding” anniversary.  We have a “justice of the peace anniversary” in October, so we celebrate twice a year.  We had no intention of having a church ceremony unless it was a quiet monastery wedding.   But at the time I was serving a cluster of parishes, and when a wheel-chair bound little girl of the parish heard I was just married she sighed, “No one will ever let ME be a flower girl.”  So Bill and I had a church wedding after all so that we could have an “open cast” for flower girls.  A bunch of girls answered the call, and made flower crowns and wore pretty dresses and the wheelchair looked like a float at the Rose Bowl.  

One of our sisters described her reservations about being at that wedding twelve years ago although she’d overcome her insecurity about driving in the snow and getting lost in order to appear.   During the priest’s admonition, “If any of you can show just cause why this couple may not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace” she resisted jumping up to say, “She’s one of ours!” as she watched me marry this handsome stranger.  Now, in the “strange economy of the Holy Spirit,” she said last night, “we didn’t lose a sister, but we gained a brother!”  And we are all quite happy with the present arrangement.

We played a poetry writing game, heard a few more poems and stories ( including one about a rabbit that saves a baby mouse from the cold and the heroic bunny’s “carcass” is found the next day), we sang The First Noel and placed the camel and camel driver and the three kings in the creche. 

A stunningly beautiful sermon was preached yesterday morning at the Eucharist which many of us referenced the rest of the day and into the evening.  (We’re putting up a sermon blog and that will be the first sermon.)  And while the sermon yielded gems throughout the day, I had also played with a sermon by Saint Bernard in my own preparations for Epiphany Day.  

Bernard admonishes the wise men for being fools: looking for a king, a Deity, in a wretched cave among poor people!   But the wise men had become foolish in order to become wise.  “The Spirit has taught them in advance what later the apostle preached, ‘Let him who would be wise become as a fool, that so he may be wise.'” And, “He, Who urged them on by means of the star without, has Himself taught them in their inmost heart.”

Maybe Bernard inspired the morning’s dream image of the “sparks.”  The guiding star within draws us away from the transient glitter of all kinds of worldly achievements and distractions.  At first, the wise men assume that they should go to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.  Quickly, they see their mistake, and proceed to the shepherd’s outpost of Bethlehem.   The star guides us toward the humble comfort of home, and, the extraordinary wonder of Divine Love hidden within ordinary life. 

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