Epiphany


image and words copyright Tara Malouf::2010

_mg_6409_1(picture taken in Guangzhou, China, 2008)

This week I have learned to “present my body” (Rom. 12) in some unorthodox ways, but it has lead to some orthodox thoughts – and a refreshing reminder of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

So, a few weeks ago a friend of mine called and invited me to a hot yoga class.  This new studio had opened up in town and was doing a deal 10 classes for $10.  You really can’t beat that price AND since I have been SO cold this winter, I thought that it would be worth $10 just to be in a hot room for an hour.  This last week I went twice to hot yoga and though I don’t subscribe to yogic-spirituality, it has taught me some things about abiding and presenting my body.

During the hot yoga class, the room is heated to 110 degrees.  At first, it feels so good – coming in from the cold outside, my freezing toes finally thaw and turn toasty.  However, once we begin to go through the postures, I begin to feel the discomfort of the heat and the enormous amount of sweat dripping off my body.

The class progresses as we move our bodies into a posture and then HOLD IT.  At this point, all my faculties are engaged – my body needs to hold still, my mind needs to focus and my will needs to dig in.  We only hold the posture for one minute, but during that time it seems as though the clock goes into slow motion.

As I stood in one of the postures the other day, the Lord entered into my thoughts and said three words, “Abide in Me”.  I realized that up until this point, I wanted “abiding” to be easy, soft and angelic with warm Hollywood lighting and a nice deep sigh (and maybe some tranquil music playing in the background?).  But here I stood in a far more of what, for me, is an abiding stance – shaking, sweating, trying to focus and not fall over, in the heat of the moment with no relief in sight.  It was as if God said, “Tara, sometimes abiding means that you present your body and remain in that presentation whether it feels good or not.  Just stay!  Remain though you are enticed by the sensation to flee or quit.”

Then, on Saturday night, I went to church and realized I had no feeling of worship or desire to be there.  But once again God entered my thought process and took me bck to the class earlier this week.  He showed me that standing in the sanctuary is the same lesson as in the yoga studio.  “Present your body, Tara.  Take up the postures and remain.”  (However, this time my reason for doing it was far greater.  It wasn’t about exercise, it was about His Worthiness.)  Once again, all my faculties were employed – my body in standing, my mind on the words I was singing, and my will to choose God and not my sensations/feelings.  I learned to remain – to abide – and not run to anything else.

I am not sure what sort of training this is or what it will lead to, but I know that I am supposed to “present my body” and “remain”.  I am not being given any feelings or spiritual experience, only a training of my focus and will beginning with getting my body into the space of obedience.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!_mg_9641

Opening prayer:

O Lord, You have taught us that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing:  Send Your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts Your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue.  Grant this for the sake of Your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit.  One God, now and for ever.  Amen

Readings: (we read from The Life of Christ in Stereo, so I’m putting in the references for those who want them)

“I believe – Help my unbelief” – Mt. 17:14-21, Mk 9:14-29, Lk. 9:37-43a

Discourses on Humility and Forgiveness – Mt. 18:1-20, Mk. 9:33b-10:1, Lk. 9:46-50

How Many Times Forgive? – Mt. 18:21-35

The Good Samaritan – Lk 10:25-37

Martha and Mary – Lk. 10:38-42

So one thing you need to know about me is that I hate doing laundry. Well, perhaps hate is too strong a word…um…nope, that’s the right word. I hate it. Actually the part I hate is taking the clothes out of the dryer, folding them and getting them put away. I make my kids put their clothes away, but I have been known to lay my shirts over the back of the chair in my room and just wear them from there. (Actually, I’ve also been known to leave clothes in the dryer for days at a time.)

This is a great explanation why I have been avoiding writing lately. I feel like my mind is one of those huge industrial laundromat dryers and my thoughts are the clothes – getting warmer and fluffier and going round and round and round and round.

I can see this clump of ideas, details, and thoughts – some pieces are more colorful than others, some have cooler patterns. I am able to identify some of them as they tumble past the big window but inevitably they roll back into the larger pile and continue their journey.

Unfortunately, there comes a time that the laundry has to come out and be folded and that is where I’m at with my thoughts. I need to begin to pull individual pieces from this dizzy mess. I need to fold them, then wear them or put them away.

So here are the items that I’ve taken out of the dryer today:

1. Today would have been my dad’s 66th birthday. As I thought about this I began to cry and wondered why, after 12 years, do certain moments still make my heart miss him? I know he is home in heaven, but some days I just wish he was sitting at my kitchen table having a cup of coffee with me. The tears remind me the power a parent has on his or her children. And it also reminds me that I am not guaranteed another day with my kids, so I had better not squander it.

2. I have also been thinking a lot about something a friend said to me a few weeks back. We were talking about a certain spiritual practice of hers and how difficult that practice was for her at the time. I asked her why she continued to remain in it if it was proving to be so frustrating and her answer resonated with my heart. She said she kept with it because it was teaching her to “give her attention to [certain] things rather than things grabbing for her attention”. The difference in those two phrase was quite pronounced in my mind and I felt my whole self saying “YES!”

As I read the “I am” statements, my heart is becoming exposed in this arena. So often I let things grab for my attention, my affections and my trust. I find myself “hungry” for something and let stuff grab my appetite, but Jesus says to me “I am the Bread of Life. Give your appetite to Me.” I find myself worrying about finances and let money grab my attention, but Jesus says to me “I am the Good Shepherd. I will take care of you. Give your worry to Me.” I find myself wanting the applause of people and find situations grabbing for my attention, but Jesus says to me “I am the Vine. In Me you will find your sustenance. Give your significance to Me.”

I am learning that these “I am” statements come into play in so many moments in my day. I want to give myself to Him and not be grabbed by fleeting fancies or idols. Oh Lord, help me!

Since the evening is drawing to a close, I’m going to turn the “dryer” back on and let the thoughts take a few more spins around (another practice I do in real life when I don’t get the clothes out soon enough!)  I’m exhausted from trying to fold it all so neatly!  I think maybe next time I’ll hire a maid!!  And one more thing….can I tell you how much I hate ironing???

Evening prayerO God, the Strength of all who put their trust in You;  mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without You, give us the help of Your grace, that in keeping Your commandments we may please You both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

Readings: well, to be honest with you, we did not do a lot of reading this last week.  Ok, we did NONE!!  We were sick and then busy…and then I got too tired to make it happen.  So…we will be looking at the “I Am” statements of Jesus this week.  If you did this last week, maybe it’s good to look at them again and ask the Spirit to give you a different perspective on them.  I think the opening prayer (above) has echoes of the “I Am” statements in that we are declaring He is our strength (Bread of Life?), and we can do nothing apart from Him (Vine).

My prayer:

Holy Spirit, would you do some heart-work in me this week.  Would you show me through these “I AM” statements where I do not trust You?  Would you show me where I do not believe that You are those things?  Would you reveal to me what other things or ideas I cling to, trusting them to be what only You are?  I desire to be present with You this week, Jesus, and to hear You speak “I Am” into moments of my days.

Beginning prayer for the evening – Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which You have made known to us in Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings:

“I am” Statements – bread of life, light of the world, good shepherd, resurrection and the life, the way the truth and the life, the true vine…there are probably more, but we will focus on these.

“If” statements – we may also look at the “if” statements that other people said to Jesus (ie. “if you are the Christ”, “if you are the Son of God”) and how He responded to them.

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Epiphany is hard!!  It is truly “ordinary time”.  It is the time in which I have to do the mundane, the repetative and the miniscule.  It is in the mid-life of winter so all around me is barren, cold, hibernating.  Yet when I turn my face toward the homes on my street and there is the warm glow of incandescent light cascading from the windows.  The smoke of a chimney gives evidence to a warmth and a gathering happening inside.  Where nature denies it, these man-made structures proclaim life, movement and growth.

Perhaps as I live Epiphany, this is where I must turn – inside my home.  I cannot tend a garden right now, but perhaps I am to sow seeds inside my dwelling place.  Perhaps I am to sow them in the unseemingly rich soil of the mundane, the repetitive and the miniscule moments of marriage and motherhood.

Epiphany isn’t just hard, it is boring!  But perhaps it sheds light on my heart’s desire to always be entertained or in a state of “experience”.  There are no grand celebrations to prepare for, just the very present here and now of a nightly family meal.  There are no “silent nights” or Ash Wednesdays, just average days that slip by the world’s notice – save that of three people (husband, daughter, son).  There is no special music written for this season except the long monotonous note of remaining faithful in the little things.

No doubt Epiphany living is hard.  It brings me face to face with the reality and work of life.  It offers no excitement, spiritual “experience”, or even pleasure.  What it does offer though is a time to mature, to remain faithful to my calling and to still live intentionally when feelings fail me.  It also gives me a  time to live presently – not reminising about past seasons or preparing for the next.  I am to be HERE – immersed in each moment (no matter how boring it feels!) and presenting each action to God, asking Him to “establish Thou the work of my hands”.

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