Weekly Word for December 23, 2015

December 22nd, 2015

To See What Mary Saw


Dear Epiphany,

Merry Christmas!

What if Mary knew the minute Jesus was born that he was the Messiah? What if she knew the moment she laid eyes on him that he was a king; and then, from every day thereafter, that this child she gave birth to would save her people? What if, along the way, she came to see that it wasn’t just her people he would save, but that he would save the whole world? What if as he grew, taught, prayed, and led, Mary came to understand that the salvation her son wrought upon the world came not through wars won or laws written or decrees made? What if it was something else she came to see; that her son, the child born in a manger in Bethlehem came to give the world something greater: the love of God.

And what if we were able to see what Mary saw? What if in the eyes of those we live with and those we gave birth to and those who birthed us, we saw people who were as big as the love of God? What if in every encounter this love was the light we approached? What if we saw what Mary saw? Imagine! Imagine what life would be like! I know my life would be better, more purposeful, and more authentic. I would be more myself, and thus, more the person God imagines I can be.

Jesus came to make us more ourselves, or shall I say, remind us who we are; that is beloved, like the infant in the manger. And it is this belovedness that has impact. It is this belovedness that changes the world. It is this belovedness when seen in the face of the other that unleashes the most powerful force known, the love of God. Love known and love shared is the love of God. This we know because God came into the world to be with us and show us what it actually means to be beloved.

This season of Christmas I invite you to see what Mary saw.


Evening Prayer Homily: Trust, Balk, Repeat


Two of the four gospels, Mark and John, pass over the Christmas story altogether and essentially begin with the life of John the Baptist then quickly move to Jesus’ baptism by John. Only the other two gospels, Matthew and Luke, refer to Mary’s pregnancy with the Son of God, and the impact of that news on those most immediately affected. The reading today from Matthew is the simplest—only sparse reference to Mary’s condition and a slight bit more on Joseph’s ambivalence and then trusting acceptance based on angelic messaging in his dreams. The gospel of Luke goes into some detail regarding the visit of the angel Gabriel with Mary, and we learn of Mary’s acceptance and surrender in the face of what could have been life-breaking news to anyone with even mild trust issues.

Issues of trust and the personal, sometimes rocky, journey to faith have been on my mind for some time now. I used to think faith would strike in a blinding moment of clarity, that I would be forever changed, like I imagine Mary was, or like Saul on the road to Damascus. But for me, the path is longer and looks more like: trust, balk, repeat. Let me explain.

Many years ago, when our daughters were small children learning to swim, our family would go each night to a neighborhood swim club near our home. Samantha and Eva, ages six and three respectively, worked with a teacher and, with the faith and trust of children, took to the water almost instantly, like little guppy babies. Then my husband Thad, not to be left behind, decided to learn to swim at age 44, fully aware of the possibility of drowning and without the benefit of childhood innocence and trust.

I watched Thad, at the shallow end of the pool, carefully put his face into the water and push off, float face down for a few seconds, then abruptly stand up, gulping air and quickly wiping the water from his eyes. We all know that urgent gesture. He would look around, apparently reassuring himself that he was still okay, still seemingly in command of his survival, and then repeat the entire process again.

And so it went. Float, gulp, repeat. As I watched, over time the period of floating and trust lengthened, the air-gulping episodes softened, and the repetitions took on a graceful rhythm. Within six months, on a trip to Hawaii, I looked up from my book on the beach to see Thad’s by-then familiar, confident stroke out at the furthest buoy in the natural bay. He was nearly to the line where the ocean turns from sky blue to the darker shades of the deep, evoking specters of alien, swift predators and sudden fierce currents. To the outsider and from a distance (e.g., me on the beach), trust and faith sometimes don’t look very safe–or even rational.

During the time that the girls were in lessons and Thad was beginning his exploration into swimming, I started a modest trust and faith project for myself. I decided, left on my own for an hour each evening, that I would swim laps and search for God. Sensory-deprived and rhythmical, lap-swimming is a time of natural meditation. Those of you who heard Doyt’s sermon a few weeks ago will remember that he talked about meditating as a young man in a very disciplined way in search of his personal core. In my case, I was more of an accidental meditator—a Doubting Thomas, if you will, searching for evidence of a higher power. A higher power—and here’s the important Christian part for me—willing to reveal Himself or Herself and to connect with me on a human and personal level. That has always been the mystery and the attraction for me in Christianity—that crossing of the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human.

T.S. Eliot wrote, in The Four Quartets:

Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—

I was no candidate for sainthood, but I began my search. I had few expectations but some hope and more than a little curiosity. At first, nothing happened. No angels appeared in my dreams or waking life. God did not speak to me in a voice of thunder. Over several weeks, though, I began to go deeper and deeper into a calm and quiet space—into the deepening blue. And then one evening, it began. I sensed a fragile flash of energy, delicate as a firefly and spidery, that ricocheted lightly inside my body as I swam through the water. It reminded me of the first sensation of movement of each of my babies in the womb, the whisper of a fish fin. “Had I imagined it?” I would think (and smile)—and then it would repeat and strengthen as the baby grew and prepared to meet the world.

Over the weeks of my swimming and searching for God, the light flashes of energy happened spontaneously on several occasions. Most often, they happened when I would feel quiet and open—not on command for sure and always surprising in the pattern, or lack of pattern. They felt playful, almost a charming childlike invitation to a game of peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek. Hardly the profundity I expected from a serious theological or mystical moment! It never occurred to me before then that God might have a sense of humor.

I’d like to be able to tell you that this was the beginning, like early pregnancy, of consistent growth into a reliable accessible relationship, free of cyclical attacks of doubt—the trust, balk, repeat experience. But at some point, probably when the girls outgrew their lessons, my lap swimming stopped and with it the playful and mysterious interactions. I never forgot that feeling, though, that lightness of being. Maybe it was one of those moments Doyt referenced as part of the slow slog of conversion. Slog, slog with intermittent moments of inspiration or transcendence.

I have had other such moments, and each is very different from those that went before. For me, this conversion process is inspiring and engaging but not at all linear. It gets better with each cycle, though. It’s a lot like learning to swim, as I think of it. Trust, balk, repeat—until we know something we didn’t know before.

As I think about all of this and as I read the brief mention of Mary’s pregnancy in the Gospel of Matthew, I wonder if Mary felt those early baby stirrings. She was human. Did she worry and want human things (like safety) for her child? Did she experience the lightness of God? Did she have doubts—did her faith ever falter? Or was she able, without lapse or balk, to surrender, to trust in God’s will? Did she believe in her heart, did she have abiding faith, that her baby would change the world, that he would be more special—more divine and more human—than ever she could imagine?


Stewardship 2016: Thank You for Your Pledges!

Dear Epiphany,

In this season of thanks and expectation, we want to express our gratitude to all of you for your generosity during this fall’s annual Stewardship Drive. From the day Doyt launched the process with his powerful sermon to today, we have made tremendous progress toward our goal in support of the 2016 operating budget.

Thanks to those who reached out to the congregation through thoughtful letters (Valerie Conn, Tim Hill, Dick Nelson, Jonathan Roberts, and Billy Rosewarne) and through inspiring witness messages (Jamie Balducci and Jim MacLean). And a huge thank you to all who have pledged your support for 2016, ensuring the financial health of Epiphany Parish, our spiritual home.

To date, an impressive 79% of the parish has made a pledge. As you know, our hope and prayer is to reach 100% participation before Christmas. If you have not yet had the opportunity to add your support, we encourage you to do so. You may contact Chinn Eap in the Parish Office (206-324-2573) or pledge online.

Again, thank you for your generosity. We are blessed to have had the opportunity to lead this year’s stewardship ministry.

With deep gratitude,
Brad Neary & Sterling Stiff
Co-Chairs, Stewardship

Parish Prayer List

Click here to download this week’s prayer list.

Sunday Lectionary Corner

December 27, 2015 
First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18
Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Upcoming Events in the Life of Epiphany

Click here to view the calendar on the website.

This Week at Epiphany

December 24: Christmas Eve at Epiphany
See and hear the story of Christmas acted out and sung by our children in the Great Hall. The main parts have been assigned and rehearsed, but we always need more little ones to fill out our chorus of animals, angels, and stars! Report to the Christie House Library at 3:30 pm for costumes and roles. Click here for more details. Nursery care will be available in John, 3:30–7:30 pm.

Epiphany Choir will lead us in three joyful services celebrating the birth of Christ. Nursery care will be available in John, 3:30–7:30 pm.

Come early to one of the two late Eucharist services to enjoy a musical prelude featuring flute and harp and the Epiphany Choir.

Click here for more information on Christmas Eve services.

December 25: Christmas Day at Epiphany
On Christmas morning, join us for a Holy Eucharist service in the Great Hall at 9 am. No child care available.

December 27: the Sunday after Christmas
On the Sunday after Christmas, we will have our regular Rite 1 services at 7:30 am and 5 pm, and a single, combined Rite 2 service of Congregational Lessons & Carols with Holy Eucharist at 10 am. Nursery care available for the 10 am service. No Sunday school or formation hour programming.

December 27 & January 3: Coffee Hour Moved to Christie House Library
The Fireside Room will be closed until January 8 as LCL puts the final finish coat on the floor and the new furniture is delivered. As a result Coffee Hour will be held in the Christie House Library on December 27 and January 3.
–Ben Bradstreet

Office Closed After Christmas
From December 25 to January 1, the Parish Office will be closed. The office will be open again on Monday, January 4. See you in the New Year!
—Epiphany Staff

Upcoming Events

January 6: Epiphany Holy Eucharist
Join us for a Holy Eucharist service with a soloist in the Great Hall at 7 pm. No reception. No childcare available.

January 10: Adult Forum – The Liturgical Year
The liturgical calendar we follow is organized in a manner that brings us into deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Sunday worship is more than a time to gather with people we know and love to hear sermons and music and be fed at the communion table. It is a spiritual exercise that changes us over time. Join Doyt in the Christie House Library at 10 am for a rich conversation that may change the way you experience Sundays at Epiphany.

January 16: Speaking of Dying
Speaking of Dying is a short film dedicated to the idea that we can all have a better death and designed to empower viewers to speak about end-of-life issues before there is a crisis. Join the producer Trudy Jones to discuss this important film and its implications in the Great Hall at 1 pm. Free and open to the public. Click here to read more and watch an endorsement from Bishop Rickel.

January 31: Save the Date for Our Annual Meeting
Save the date to gather as a parish to vote on nominees for the Vestry, Nominating Commitee, and Convention. More information to come!