It’s my first year to follow the liturgical calendar and to notice that Christmas ended yesterday. I like the idea that Christmas lasts for twelve days—twelve days of remembering Emmanuel, God with us. Twelve days to wrestle with Creator becoming (sort of) created; divinity wrapping itself in flesh. Twelve days to sit with the mystery and hold the weight that Christmas, so Easter.
And now we enter the season of Epiphany. We talked about epiphanies on Sunday. Today is the first day of Epiphany…I’m still not sure what it means. But I wanted to mark some things, some changes in the way I think about thinking about God.
Growing up I was encouraged, exhorted, taught, convinced that I had to wake up early in the morning and spend time praying and reading my Bible. It was something I strove to bring into focus in my life. I was taught to pray for myself, for my friends, my community, my church, the city, the state, the United States, the world, the planet, the universe AND spend 30 minutes reading the Bible…I think at one point in order to do “all the things” I was having to wake up at 4am. Needless to say it was never a practice that stuck for more than a day or two. Queue the guilt.
When my first was born, and sleeping became erratic, I learned to have “quiet times” when he laid down for his first nap. Epiphany: my time praying and reading didn’t have to happen as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. It could happen in those quiet moments—whatever quiet moment I carved out of the day. It was sacred and holy time, no matter if I had been awake for a few hours and eaten breakfast, or after running to the grocery store, or worked out, or slept in because hello 2am and 4am feedings. It was my first taste of freedom—my practices aren’t going to look like anyone else’s and that’s OK.
After years of church work and forcing myself to fit an evangelical mold, I crashed and burned. I found Scripture dead and heavy work. I couldn’t pray. Along the way I learned about breath prayer. I was breathing, at least. So I matched prayer to my breath. It was simple when I needed simple, connecting mind to heart to body to spirit.
I breathe God in.
I breathe God out into the world.
It was the only prayer I could say. Anything else felt forced, contrived and even trite. Who am I to know the heart of God? I didn’t know what to ask for—for you or for me. That breath prayer was the only prayer that felt honest. Epiphany: being me, bringing my full self to the table is more important than any program or structure. I couldn’t read my bible and journal and pray the way I had before. But this time, sometimes only five minutes of breath prayer in a hectic morning, was just as sacred and holy. It carved out space for me to re-center on the One who continually calls me to his side. Another epiphany: God is always waiting for me in those spaces. Lighting a candle and leaving it, coming back to it. That was a picture God gave me—never leaving, always ready and waiting to welcome me back to God’s light and warmth. I can never travel to far or too long. And there is no judgment—I can just slip into God’s arms once again, like sitting in the light of the candle on my couch wrapped in blankets. Warmth and comfort and a welcome back, love. I missed you.
Yet…even in a season of early morning prayers and late night prayers, I find myself experiencing frustration when the promise of peace doesn’t linger. When three minutes after waking up the littles, there are tears and frustrations and fights. And I find myself turning my anger towards God, almost hissing you promised! If I did this, then…
Epiphany: all these years later, I still viewed my relationship with God as transactional. I expected to feel good and for the good feelings to last no matter what. I felt betrayed when it didn’t. Angry when I carved out space and it wasn’t all I wanted it to be, either because the good feelings didn’t come, or they dissipated soon after the chaos from the day began. I don’t even know what to do with that one. I think just leaning into it, confessing and being present in the feelings (frustration, anger, bitterness) as they come. And here it is again…I expected the 30 minutes in the morning to last all day long. I set aside this time for this activity and now I’m good. I worked out for an hour today. I don’t have to do it again.
Epiphany: praying isn’t a work of once and done—it’s a continual state of my heart. I learned this, once, when I read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. It radically released me to view mundane tasks as opportunities for prayer. But I still viewed that morning time prayer as more sacred and holy and enough so that I never “had to” think about prayer again. But this is a relationship, not a work out. My people that I’m closest to? We text multiple times throughout the day, checking-in. I can’t wait to tell them the good things. I need their encouragement and exhortation when the bad things rise. I turn immediately to share with them the deepest pieces of my heart. If this thing with God is a relationship…then 10 minutes in the morning is beautiful and sacred. But there will be a continual turning of my heart towards him. In the moments when the feelings rise, turning to the one who knows me and saying, did you see? I feel…THIS IS AMAING…I feel so frustrated!!!…I can’t believe…God, comfort her. Let her feel your presence…
when words fail
I breathe God in.
I breathe God out into the world.
I’d love to hear from you—what are your epiphanies? What has woken you up, shifted, or changed the way you either approach God or think about the way you approach God?