Saturday, January 06, 2007

Stations of the Magi

Whenever I take a long journey, especially if I’m driving, I do a lot to prepare. In addition to road maps and planning the route and packing, we do a thorough check of the car: tires, fluids, battery operated emergency flashers, flash lights, blankets, and food.

The word journey isn’t a word most of use in our daily speech. We might say, road trip, or vacation, or a hike. Journey is a more ancient word and our Christian tradition can help us appreciate the richness this word conveys.

Until recent times, the taking of a journey was filled with great danger, traveling long distances on foot, or horse, or boat left one vulnerable to the elements of weather and terrain. The journals of a Henry Muhlenberg, who came to the American colonies to help organize the Lutherans, describe how the ship he was on ran out of water and the rats, desperate for water would lick the sweat off the faces of passengers while they slept.

My family history includes the journey of pioneers, who traveled west. Some even traveled by boat from England, then a train from the east coast to the Mississippi, then a wagon train to Utah or Idaho. These folks kept their belongings in the wagon, but the people, men, women, and children, walked in order to not overload the weight of the wagons for the ox that pulled them. The route out west was filled with graves, signs of the arduous nature of the journey.

In Christianity we use the word journey to describe our faith and growth of spirituality. This journey into the meaning of life is described as moving from the mundane, the trivial, or evil, toward what is good and valuable. This spiritual journey is also filled with danger: the danger of distraction, boredom, or unfulfilled expectation. People who make this spiritual journey are often called pilgrims. I have been using that language here as well, seeking to understand the nature of our post-modern culture, our restless aimless sense of being unrooted and not belonging to a place or a community. Coming out of research by Diana Butler Bass I have started using two metaphors to help us understand our world today: when wandering aimless in our spiritual journey we are called nomads, so sense of being rooted. But when we claim a place and a community with whom to grow and nurture our spiritual selves, we become pilgrims. In this context, being a pilgrim means being on a spiritual journey with others in a faith community seeking to grow our faith. Being a spiritual pilgrim requires us to do some very intentional things: to worship together, to pray as community and in our daily lives, to show genuine hospitality to those we know and those we do not know, to educate ourselves about the injustices in the world and to be a people of compassion, loving others, loving God, loving ourselves. It means we take on the traditional Christian discipline of Christ, we give of ourselves as he gave, and we do this intentionally. These Christian disciplines include things like hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty. As a faith community we at St. Hilary’s are on a journey of discernment, which includes forms of prayer.

In our Synthesis CE for the month of January and February I have included an introduction on praying with scripture. Responding to your questions and concerns about how scripture informs our understanding of current issues and our contemporary world I am working to bring scripture to you all in a variety of ways. By reading and praying with scripture we grow in faith and understanding of how God is active in our lives and world. This is one way I have invited us to be a discerning community. Discernment means that we are intentionally creating the environment to see and hear God in our midst and come to some understanding of what God is calling us to do. We have had several discernment committees in this parish who have spent a year or more discerning whether an individual member has a call to holy orders. Through this process we have raised up two deacons and are investing our prayers in the discernment process of a third person contemplating a call to the priesthood. Some of us have been trained in this kind of discernment. Discerning God’s call to our community is much the same process, of questioning, listening, silence, prayer, and conversation. When we are discerning our prayer is: O God, grant me your sense of timing. It is a spiritual journey we travel together.

Our discerning will be informed by several community activities: praying with scripture in our worship on Sunday and in your personal lives during the week; the presentations unpacking the research information from Diana Butler Bass, meeting with vestry members, and then the parish, to review the results of the survey we took last Spring, to gather on Sunday’s and worship and pray together. To ponder what we can do as individuals and as a parish. To listen for God in our midst. Today I offer yet another way to assist in our prayer and discernment, a labyrinth.

The walking of a Labyrinth is an ancient practice of prayer and meditation; a physical process of an internal a spiritual journey. A labyrinth is a patterned walkway that has a beginning point, walks one through a series of circles or partial circles to a center point and then out again. As one walks the labyrinth one prays about what ever concern is on one’s mind at the time. Walking a labyrinth is a form of meditation, prayer in movement, a spiritual journey..

The original labyrinths were made thousands of years ago. Christians took on the practice in the middle ages, and contemporary spirituality has renewed this practice. The most famous labyrinth is in the Chartres Cathedral in France.

Today as we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany I invite us to use the image of a labyrinth to enter into this season. For the next several weeks we walk the journey of the wise men, or in our case, the wise men, women, and children. Our journey will presume that God is with us, that somehow in the mix of these times we are Christ led and Spirit fed.

The journey begins by seeing the star of Bethlehem, a sign that God beckons us. We have traveled before, but this journey – over the weeks between now and our annual meeting on Feb. 4, will be different. This one we have to make together, but it is you all who will discern the end of the path. As your rector and priest I have brought us this far, now the next steps are up to you.

So, we will set out on this journey, following the star, looking for signs that point us to the Christ child, the new born life. The journey will be arduous at times: you may find yourself bored, or resistant to what is being asked of you, you may be angry or fearful or anxious, or maybe you are able to be quiet and open to the process, the spirit. I trust it will be enlightening and maybe even fun, or at least energizing.

I invite your to walk the labyrinth of our church space, the nave and sanctuary, to walk it in prayer. Along the way you will find some stations; stations of the wise men. Stop at these points, pray and reflect on the meditations provided in this booklet, or on your own. The Christian journey is marked by several distinctive emphasis: first, we travel a spiritual journey together, we are a community; second, the journey we travel is Christ, he is our guide, the one we follow; and third, the mid point of the journey, in our labyrinth is the altar, to remind us that in Christ, in the brokenness of his life, God poured out for us love and compassion. Fourth, we partake of the bread and the wine to fill ourselves with that same love and compassion that we might share it with others. Fifth, we are sent out into the world to share this love.

The Christian life is not a solitary journey toward personal fulfillment.The Christian life is a journey we make as community, we walk this road together. In this season after the Epiphany open yourself up to the possibility that God is doing a new thing with us.

1 comment:

Songbird said...

Lovely, lovely.

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