Stepping into Epiphany is always a mixed bag for me. January 6th means that Christmastide is finished for another year. Now we are headed for Ash Wednesday, which comes quite late in 2017. In some ways, this shift in seasons is a relief—all the red around my house comes down and is packed away for another year. The ornaments are gathered off the tree and the candles are stored in a cool place. The nativity sets are stacked into a plastic bin, each baby Jesus safely secured in a corner somewhere.
Although I don’t relish the work of lugging Christmas bins from house to garage, I do enjoy seeing the cleaner edges of my usual living space emerging from the red, green, silver and gold lavishness of the holiday season. I love Christmas, truly, I do. But I’m glad when it’s time to turn away from the celebrating and re-enter a more ordinary season. My capacity for holiday decorating seems to have diminished with time!
This time, however, it feels like something important is missing as I move more fully into this new year. Since my retirement from parish ministry six years ago, I have gladly embraced a more open schedule and relished the monthly visits from an ever-changing list of people seeking spiritual direction, either here in my small study or via Facetime or Skype. I have also appreciated my monthly opportunities to write for two magazines, one online, and one in print. Occasionally, I even try to fill my own blog space and I’ve recently started writing a newsletter.
But at this turn of the year, with 2017 opening before me, it feels like my capacity for the good work of spiritual direction and writing is larger than the demand for either one. People I thought were committed to my one-on-one work chose to drift away, usually without any formal farewell. A possible temporary job situation didn’t pan out. Both the inner drive to write and the outer call for it seem to have fled the scene.
So what I’m left with at this moment in time is a noticeable sense of emptiness. Maybe openness is a better word; I am open for more in my life. Because I like projects, love people, enjoy regular interaction with others and appreciate the satisfaction of a job reasonably well done, I wonder what this strange new time is all about.
Perhaps the long-awaited final decline for my mother is in process. Maybe there is a health issue looming for me or for my husband. It could be that one of our children or grandchildren or a dear friend will need more of my time and energy in days ahead. Maybe that’s why I sense this curious clearing-away-of-the schedule, this poignant sense that the baton is raised, but the downbeat has not been struck. I do not know what is coming; yet I feel certain that something is on the way.
Last Sunday’s sermon reminded me that Epiphany is a season of beginnings, of newness, and of particular reflection on the life of Jesus. We’ve come through Advent, remembering his birth, anticipating his coming again. On March the 1st, we’ll enter into Lent and reflect on the last ministry of Jesus, that self-sacrificial offering of his own suffering and death on our behalf.
But now—in the seven remaining weeks of Epiphany—we reflect on those three years of walking-talking-praying-eating-feeding-cajoling-warning-blessing-exorcising-healing. Those years of dusty roads, personal encounters, laughter with friends, tears over the city, and lovely acts of compassion and healing.
Last Sunday, our pastor chose the story of water becoming wine at the word of Jesus. He reminded us that this first miracle in John’s gospel is all about taking the ordinary and making it special, about changing what is common into something remarkable. It’s about the best being saved for last.
I want to remember that truth, to grab hold of it with hope and trust. I mark another birthday this month, one step further into the eighth decade of my life. The last season. And I am looking for a little wine somewhere along the way, the wine of transformation, of change and newness. I am eager to hear the word that only Jesus can say. In this season of openness, I invite him in.