And the magi, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,left for their own country by another road. ~ Matthew 2:12
These words capture the spirituality of Epiphany—"going home by another road." Epiphany is about the unexpected: unexpected joys and synchronicities and unexpected challenges and tragedies. Epiphany is filled with unexpected revelations that change our minds and ways. These days, many pastors and their congregants are going by another road than they expected; the economic downturn and institutional uncertainties have left many people anxious and others downsized from positions they expected to be more permanent. Recently, I met with a group of Associate Pastors, all of whom were uncertain whether they would have positions following their congregation's annual meeting. And, just over a month ago, my seminary administrative position was eliminated as a result of institutional restructuring. While I was aware of the economic uncertainties that might affect my position, the timing caught me by surprise. Now I must face the future, traveling on a different road with a different timetable than I had expected.
In Epiphany, the magi take another road home; Peter discovers that God's grace is wider than he ever imagined; and the disciples experience Jesus as transfigured, like Moses, on the mountaintop and then, to their chagrin, realize that beyond the transfiguration stands a cross on the horizon.
Eventually, all of us take routes that we had never expected to travel, whether these involve changes in employment, health, relational, or economic status. When life forces us from the familiar highway onto an uncharted path, we are challenged to experience holiness as we travel on another road. The path is seldom easy, but within the real limitations of life, we may discover unexpected possibilities for vocation, mission, and transformation.
Celtic pilgrims often went to sea in tiny boats, coracles, sailing forth without a rudder. They trusted that God would guide them to their "place of resurrection." They believed that amid the winds and waves, there was a guiding force luring them toward holiness and wholeness. This is our hope, too, as we journey on our own uncharted paths, often with nothing more than prayer to guide us.
While Christian wisdom has affirmed that God is omnipresent, most of us have never fully explored what it means to assert that God is everywhere. At the very least, the doctrine of divine omnipresence means that God is present as our companion on every pathway—in certainty and uncertainty, and in celebration and grief. It means that as we face the call of new horizons, whether by desire or necessity, often as pilgrims without a map, there is a divine wisdom moving through our lives, giving us insight, providing synchronous encounters, and awakening us to unexpected energies. Psalm 139 captures the spirit of divine presence in uncharted territories:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right had shall hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and light around me become night,"
Even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
The different roads that we are forced to take don't need to relate to economics, employment, or health. We can be called by a dream to explore new theological ideas or a new sense of mission.
We can hear the call of a new way of doing ministry that forces us to leave the familiar in order to be faithful to God. We may have to move our bodies—that is, relocate—as well as our spirits to follow the call of the unfamiliar.
But, a spirituality of Epiphany reminds us that God is a fellow adventurer on every road we travel. Awakened to divine companionship, every path can become a holy adventure with surprises and epiphanies around every corner. Now, let me be clear, I do not believe God is the source of downsizing, trauma, and disease; but God is the creative source of possibility and the companioning source of restlessness as new horizons beckon us. God vision for each one of us is for a future and a hope.
In the season of Epiphany, God calls us to wake up to revelation that stretches, surprises, and transfigures. Revelations can be found everywhere and in every situation, and they always call us to take another road, to become a new creation, and welcome adventure in the midst of challenge.