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Here at the year’s end, at the feast
Of birth, let us bring to each other
The gifts brought once west through deserts-
The precious metal of our mingled hair,
The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
The myrrh of desperate, invincible kisses-
Let us celebrate the daily
Recurrent nativity of love,
The endless epiphany of our fluent selves,
While the earth rolls away under us
Into unknown snows and summers,
Into untraveled spaces of the stars.
-Kenneth Rexroth, from Sacramental Acts
If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things…
If we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action,
when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi?
Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary?
For each of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover.
And a being within ourselves to bring to life.
Dearest monks and artists,
I love the feast of Epiphany – this celebration of revelation, of eyes seeing in new ways, of holy surprise. I love that we honor the calling of the wise ones across the desert to witness the holy birthing of the Christ child and bear fragrant and lush gifts.
As we enter the New Year, the image of following a star is close to my heart. We each have our eyes on the horizon of the night sky, to see what light rises to illuminate the way ahead. I am feeling tremendously grateful for a sense of joy and anticipation over what this year will bring. We have now lived in Ireland for a full year, long enough to know we want to be here for much longer, and are eager to put down deeper roots.
As I write these words, the wind is howling outside. We have had many days of gale force winds this past month. Last year when we arrived in Galway, I thought certainly all my years in Seattle would have prepared me for the rain here. But as I discovered, rain in Galway takes itself much more seriously. In addition to rain being much heavier than the mist we usually had in the Northwest, the winds were a new element for me. They describe the rain as "lashing" here and it often falls sideways in torrents. Our first few weeks here the winds were at their fiercest, being the middle of winter, a blowing that felt relentless. Every time we went out for a walk, I could feel my body stiffen up in resistance to that terrible wind.
But something remarkable has happened over this year. Somehow I have learned to make friends with the wind. I don't find my body tightening at the thought of walking outside this time of year. I hear the wind howling and can sometimes hear the ancient song, rather than the relentless cry. I have discovered the power of wind to shake things loose, and with my word for 2014 being "Essence" I am appreciating how the wind pries things from my grasp leaving me with the essentials. This has been one of the slow epiphanies of my life this year. A gradual revelation of new ways of seeing.
I was in Vienna twice in the last couple of months, once for some bureaucratic paperwork, and the second time for the sheer delight of anticipating Christmas with John. At first I found myself visiting with this sense of wistful longing for our life that we started there, and grief over the way the bureaucratic process prevented that from happening. This time my epiphanies came as more of the sudden kind, this sense of knowing that home was Ireland and that I could revel in Vienna's beauty without holding on anymore. This one is harder for me to explain, other than I felt a shift again that brought me greater freedom and a sense of lightness and knowing.
This is what I wish for you dear monks, to notice the "endless epiphany" which reveals itself sometimes slowly over time, and sometimes in an instant. When we are present to life, especially the things that make us harden our shells or summon grief, when we welcome in those experiences rather than chasing them out the door, they can soften and transform. We might suddenly discover that something new is happening with us, something we hadn't even thought to ask for.
May the star rise high above you to guide your way. May epiphanies break forth in a hundred different ways..
With great and growing love,
Photo: Heiligenkreuz Cistercian Monastery near Vienna (we are in the process of planning a Viennese monk pilgrimage for May 2015, email me if you are interested in joining us)