dig deep and dreamIs it time to join a gym?  Follow up on a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking?  Make friends with Marie Kondo?  Our bloggers are writing about the gifts and challenges of the new year.

Thinking about the star words that are often given at Epiphany, as a personal guiding star for the year ahead, Melissa Krabbe reflects on past words that seemed mundane and meaningless.  She confesses, “My relationship with my own words has been somewhat ironic.  The first year, I got “guidance” and laughed because I thought it was such an ironic word to put on a star.  Little did I know that within six months of receiving that word, my search for guidance would lead me to a new call in a state I had never even visited before.  Last year, my word was “coming” and I scoffed because it was such a simple, mundane word.”

This year’s word raised more questions.  “This year I got “aspire” and like before my initial reaction was skeptical.  I am distrustful of my own aspirations and goals…what has helped me make peace with this word, even this early in the year, is finding it in Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  Peterson writes, “…the virtue of aspiration–an impatience with mediocrity and a dissatisfaction with all things created until we are at home with the Creator, the hopeful striving for the best God has for us…”  Krabbe adds, “Channeled, creative energy sounds like fun.  Growth in Christ is an aspiration I can trust.”

The new year is a time for experiments, and Catherine MacDonald has set out to wear a clergy collar every day for six months.  She’s wearing it to be identifiable in the community, and it is also a way of inhabiting her role as a pastor in a different way.  We await stories from her experiment!

Anticipating a baptism, Kathy Randall is claiming the hope we receive as God’s people as a New Year’s gift for a baby.  Talking to the baby to be baptized, looking to both present and future, she writes, “In the action of baptism, we are naming that you are a member of the church universal, a valuable, chosen, intricate member of the body of Christ. We also know that this will not be the only church you will ever worship at…We don’t do it as much for baptisms, but when your father and I celebrate Eucharist, we state that this table is extended beyond the confines of the present gathering, beyond the limits of the United Methodist Church. We say that the table is Christ’s and all are invited to taste and see that the Lord is good. The promise we will be claiming is in the gathered body of worshippers, not necessarily this appointed congregation, but the congregation that this gathering will represent. Not of the United Methodist Church, that’s not the first thing we claim, but of the church universal.  We will make this promise now, so that you will be equipped to make this promise when you are older, when you claim the promise of God for your own, either gradually, or instantly, or a mix of both.”

If the New Year is all about improvement and goals, Kristin Berkey Abbott has a different idea for us.  Instead of forcing ourselves to CrossFit at 5:30 am, or trying to meditate again, what if we make friends with the gifts we have?  If you’re in middle of Whole30, sorry!  She says, “This week  I’ve been thinking about the baptism of Jesus, and God’s words of being well pleased, even before Jesus has done anything to deserve it.  And how strange is it, that I feel we have to do something before God decides whether or not to be pleased with us.  On Thanksgiving, I came across this Richard Rohr quote–I found it in Joyce Rupp’s Open the Door:  ‘The goal isn’t to get  somewhere.  The goal isn’t about forcing something to happen.  The goal is to be in harmony with the gifts that are already given’.”  She asks, “How would our lives changed if, instead of wishing we had different gifts, we learned how to best utilize the gifts that we have?  Notice that I’m still using self-improvement language:  “learn how to utilize.”  The phrase “being in harmony” suggests something different to me, a gentler, wiser approach.  That language of being in harmony brings to mind sitting with a friend, a pot of tea, and some delicious scones.”

In this season of Epiphany, Maren Tirabassi offers this vision:

“I am getting my starlight on to go preach,
settling it on my shoulders,

and somewhere between lamplighters
in Victorian England
and the LED displays of some football stadium,

I hope it sheds a little path-forward
for just one person
who is stumbling away from Christmas
without having found any place
to set down the burden of gifts,

or truly believing they have any to offer.”

Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian Church.  She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall.

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