As Epiphany approaches, GPPCers offer reflections on the Epiphany star they drew from the basket in worship a year ago. The link for the second set of reflections appears below.
Last Epiphany, the star I pulled from the basket said GATHERING. I remember stopping to talk to Sarah Workman as worship was ending, and she said, “that’s the perfect word for you!” It’s true, gathering people together is one of my favorite things in life. I was smitten with my star word, imagining all the adventures that 2020 would bring, and looked forward to opportunities for sharing time and space and being present with others. Well, we know how that turned out… gatherings became virtual experiences, which I found exhausting and strangely lonely.
As in other years, when my star word ended up being a disappointment, I set it aside and forgot about it. For me, star words have become lessons in understanding that our expectations and life’s realities do not always merge. FIDELITY following the end of a marriage, COMPANIONSHIP for a year spent learning to love myself, GATHERING in the midst of a pandemic. This Epiphany practice reminds me that there is a greater depth of meaning to words and that life unfolds in ways that we cannot predict or imagine. It becomes a practice of reflection and looking back over a year, rather than looking forward.
How have I seen my star word at work amidst everything that is 2020? For me this year has been spent GATHERING courage, forgiveness, love, stories, expressions of gratitude, words of affirmation, moments of stillness, steps on park paths, air hugs, evidence-based information, learning experiences, laughter, tears, and hope.
I've been keeping my stars on the far side of my refrigerator for the past few years, clustered together in hopes that maybe they’ll make more sense collectively than they do on their own. 2018: PASSION (yikes! My Presbyterianism is so embedded in my genetic code that I am deeply uncomfortable with such unregulated emotions as passion). 2019: VISION (yikes! I am an enneagram 6 who usually defaults to worrying about a million imminent scenarios rather than focusing on grand designs for the future). 2020: HEART (yikes! Most expressions of “heart” require more vulnerability than I’m usually willing to cede to humans). More often than not, that cluttered corner of the fridge feels more like a reminder of my shortcomings, of goals not met.
Despite my complicated relationship with my annual star words, I love this tradition so much. I’ve been fortunate to participate in the creation of the stars on a few occasions. It’s not difficult: trace a pattern, cut the shape, write a word from a list. But I love writing a word on a star and thinking “Oh, [x person] could use this word this year,” or “oof - this word is gonna be tough for whoever gets it (I hope it’s not me).” I like to send a tiny prayer that each word I write meets the person who needs it the most. I also love serving communion on Epiphany Sunday so I can catch a glimpse of each person’s budding relationship with their word as they receive the elements.
I guess my conclusion is this: if I believe that everyone else in our community gets the star that they need, I should apply the same attitude to the one I get each year too. And perhaps each Epiphany star represents the start of a relationship with a new word
or idea that can expand as new ones are added over the years. So that corner of the fridge that I avoid looking at for months at a time so as not to feel like a failure? Sometimes it also serves as a reminder of the things I am capable of if I choose not to withhold them from the world, and that reminder is a blessing.
The word on my epiphany star was DEDICATION. I think I've had the chance to live into that this year, with the weekly service to the guys from the Palace. But I'm not comfortable writing a reflection on that, because it just sounds too much like boasting.
I like my space. I need my alone time. I’m comfortable with silence. I do not need a lot of attention. If there were a personality type that would thrive during a pandemic, it’s mine.
The word on the Epiphany star that my fingers grasped was HOSPITALITY. Well, I thought, this will be challenging. Not that I’m anti-social … but trying to live into THAT WORD for a whole year was going to require … something I could not prepare for.
When COVID-19 shut things down in March, it did not register that we would be discovering new ways to practice hospitality. Leslie and I were not thinking about that when she and Colleen Miller invited the guys from The Palace for Sunday worship and breakfast in the Fellowship Hall. I tagged along because I like my wife and thought my presence might be useful.
Word of a hot meal in a safe space spread fast. The trickle of guys at GPPC on Sunday mornings soon turned into a tsunami. (On occasion, I confess, we challenged the governor’s numeric limits.) It all worked out so well. Mary Francis Hobbs and Diane Estep devoted time and talent to remote Sunday school. Many church members – some overcoming concerns about social distancing – brought wonderful breakfasts for 25.
Colleen, Leslie, Bob Knox and I had a blast getting to know the guys. One in particular (I’ll call him R) has challenged us each week with a torrent of questions, about the church, the Bible, family, culture, politics. R can be relentless. We came to know him as a troubled soul with insatiable curiosity, impressive intelligence … and a short attention span. Sunday mornings at GPPC became for R – and many of the other guys – a time and place for sincere worship and for experiencing caring, respect, dialogue and a full stomach. It has been a ministry of hospitality that no one could have planned when we received our Epiphany stars. That we have had to put it on pause while the guys at the Palace recover from COVID has made our prayers deeper and our hearts even softer for our friends.
Leslie and I also did not plan to extend hospitality to family for the month of December, but that has been how 2020 works. The leukemia that Leslie’s dad Carl has battled since Fall 2018 took a bad turn in late November. The new treatment plan from the great team at Massey requires Carl to be in Richmond full-time. The Jordanger B&B has become home for Carl and my mother-in-law Pat. Most of the time we get along great. Hosting Pat and Carl has reminded me of something R said one morning in GPPC’s fellowship hall as we (mostly R) talked about the 10 Commandments. Only one, R noted, has a promise from God attached to it: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12). I was impressed that R knew that; in his telling it felt like an important testimony, for him and for me.
Good riddance to 2020. May we all have the opportunity to give, and receive, good hospitality in the New Year.
I have to say, I groaned when I drew EXPECTATION as my 2020 Epiphany star. I have what my husband, Brint, would call a problem with expectations. It's easy for me to get my heart set on a timetable for home repairs or a schedule for a family vacation ... and when things don't happen according to plan, I get frustrated. Last January, I showed Brint my star with chagrin, like: clearly, God agrees with you. I need to work on my expectations.
Of course, 2020 has made adjusting expectations a matter of course. In a way, this pandemic season has helped me to recognize that we can hope for things, but need to roll with the punches when technology fails or the weather turns or a family member is tired or our sense of what's safe suddenly shifts. Like everyone, I've had to look for the good in moments that are not as I'd choose or engineer. I've had to loosen my grip on expectations, and I've been surprised by grace many a time.
Just when I was beginning to think I had mastered the star "expectation," an Advent devotion reframed it for me. Years ago, Simone Weil wrote: "Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life." Henri Nouwen added, "Without patience, our expectation degenerates into wishful thinking. Patience comes from the word 'patior' which means 'to suffer.' ... What seems a hindrance becomes a way; what seems an obstacle becomes a door; what seems a misfit becomes a cornerstone."
It's been lovely here at the end of the year to come around to my star anew and to pray that God will refine my expectations, instead of just lowering or adjusting them. Now I'm looking at 2021 with a spirit of holy expectation - trusting God will meet us, all along the way, with what we most need.
Carla Pratt Keyes