observe the religious calendar.
having grown up in church, being a preacher's daughter, & going into ministry as a vocation, you would think i would have experienced the religious holy days, observances, & celebrations. but this is completely new to me. even celebrating christmas as the birthday of Christ is something we didn't do in our family. but in recent years, through various books & studies, i've grown in my curiosity about the religious calendar -- not just christian, but jewish, too.
to clear something up real quick, i don't want you to think that i believe observing specific special days is necessary to one's faith walk or that i want to make a rule of this for myself or anybody else. i'm not jewish, but my christian faith is rooted in a jewish heritage. i'm not catholic, but the catholic church has a gift for savoring the sacred. these things peak my curiosity, & i believe experiencing them can enrich & deepen my faith walk & understanding of Christ.
so, i researched all the christian & jewish holy days, & i've chosen to observe most of them. there are a few that i may not partake of for various reasons & personal beliefs. i've put them all in my calendar along with alerts beforehand to prepare as needed. and i'm so excited i can't stand it! i was so thankful that the first observance was only six days into the new year!
and that's what i really want to share with you. on january 6, shaun & i celebrated epiphany. what is epiphany, you ask? i'd heard of it before, but i had no clue what it was. so i read alot about it. as i understand it, epiphany is the celebration of Jesus manifesting Himself as the Son of God. depending on the sect of christianity, this centers on the visit of the magi, Jesus' baptism, &/or the miracle at the wedding of cana. i decided to do all three. there are various ways of observing epiphany, both religious & cultural, depending on denomination & country. i just chose the traditions that most spoke to me.
first, shaun & i observed the religious rituals attached to epiphany. [disclaimer: these are often performed by a priest. i am not a priest, so please don't be offended or forgive me if you think it sacrilegious that we did them ourselves.]
i arranged the coffeetable with the necessary elements. you can see i left our christmas decorations in the middle.
candles are my addition. i just really like candles to be included in anything ritualistic. these reminded me of the Trinity, one Person of which was sent to earth in flesh to dwell among men.
i marked the three stories in our small [esv] bible. i like the nice cover & the older more formal language of this translation. we alternated reading the stories & experienced a different element on the table in between each.
first, shaun read about the visit of the magi. this we remembered by the three gifts they presented to the Christ-child. i don't own any solid gold, so i used a gold dollar coin to represent it. the small pottery crock holds myrrh gum which smells sweetly divine. and the incense is frankincense which when lit filled the room with a wonderfully earthy aroma.
then, i read the account of Jesus' baptism. afterwards, we enjoyed the epiphany tradition of blessing the house in which you use chalk to write the words Christus mansionem benedicat, which means "Christ bless this house." [obviously, shaun did the writing & i did the spelling!] we also read a prayer of blessing for the house from the book common prayer for ordinary radicals. it was beautiful.
and finally we came to the wedding at cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine. we commemorated this by taking communion. [the picture just shows a cracker. i actually made a simple unleavened bread, but i took these pictures afterwards, so the cracker is a stand-in.]
shaun said his favorite part was taking communion & taking it in the small wine glass. this small detail was a reminder that the event of communion is not to be mundane. i loved all of it, but ironically, my favorite part was the anticipation & preparation! it reminds me of something i once read about sabbath -- that it was meant to be the centerpiece of the week, something we look forward to & live for then live off of. sabbath helps us focus on God, the Creator, once a week, but the preparation for it keeps the living for God on our minds even before the day. that's how i felt getting ready for epiphany. every day i was more excited about experiencing it & making sure i had everything necessary. i loved every minute of it!
well, after the more religious traditions, we enjoyed the cultural tradition of eating all things spicy! specifically, two epiphany favorites: spice cake & wassail.
i made a spice cake with a caramel glaze that i found via martha stewart. it was delish! shaun said he wants it to become a regular beyond once a year at epiphany.
we make wassail regularly throughout the fall & winter in the casteel casa. essentially, it's a hot, spiced fruit drink. i use a simple recipe that my momma passed onto me. you can find it on my recipe blog if you're interested.
and the last epiphany tradition we participated in was the taking down of the christmas decorations. kinda sad undecking the halls, but twelve days after christmas, it needed to be done.
i hope our epiphany experience has intrigued you into exploring the religious calendar yourself. i'm already looking forward to candlemas on february 2nd. this annual goal is already accomplishing what i have hoped from it, better said by shane claiborne:
every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. for some time now, western civilization has used the julian and gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the roman empire's traditions... but if we in the church are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must reshape our minds by marking our calendars differently. we must remember the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the caesars... the church's calendar weaves in and out of the world around us. it is not that we need a "christian" calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the "secular" world... the point is not to be sectarian or to try to put ourselves at odds with non-christians. the point is to keep God's story at the center of our lives and calendar... without liturgical time, we can easily forget our eternal identity. we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of business and efficiency that shapes our culture and society. likewise, without the cosmic calendar, we can become so heaven-bound that we ignore the hells of the world around us. and the glorious goal we are headed toward is not just going up when we die but bringing God's kingdom down -- on earth as it is in heaven.