Friday, January 4, 2008


My friend Nina over at Ornamental commented yesterday on how some of her best inspirations materialize while standing under a hot shower. I couldn't agree more. I've always found that some of my best ideas are delivered as I stand in the shower . . . as if the falling water is a conduit for wet epiphanies. Maybe the water pouring over us is akin to a baptismal experience, through which we're ideally washing away our sins and anxieties, while achieving some sense of heightened clarity about ourselves and our souls.

Whether or not one believes in the idea of spiritual baptism in the Christian sense - a practice with roots in pre-Christian, pagan ritual - there's something to be said for the power of that cleansing water. Years ago, when I still wrote poetry, I would have poems pop into my head, nearly fully formed, without that arduous period of gestation and self-editing that could define some moments of literary creation. Under those circumstances, I'd dash from the shower and grab paper and pen to record the words before other thoughts crowded out this latest revelation. Even now I find that my mind clears in the shower and the synapses seem to fire a bit more smoothly.

For the liturgically minded, this is the season of epiphanies, by the way. And this Sunday, churches around the world will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, ostensibly the symbolic moment of Christ's divinity being revealed to Gentiles, represented by the Magi. Parishes will parade likenesses of the Magi, "Three Kings" or "Wise Men" through their sanctuaries or the streets of small towns, or children will dress up in beards and plastic crowns to process into their church bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But like so many of these "feasts" in the liturgical calendar, its 4th century origins are convoluted and represent one of those focal points of disagreement between churches in the east and west. For example, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, January 6th marks the day of Christ's baptism in the river Jordan. And at one time, even Christ's birth was celebrated on this day as well, before December 25th and the feast of Christmas became a separate celebration.

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church I never heard of Epiphany - or Advent and Lent, for that matter. It was as disconnected from liturgy and western christian ritual as one could possibly be. Anything remotely liturgical or ritualistic was deemed "Catholic" in nature and thus suspect. I believe some of that has changed now, however, with more Baptist churches embracing the concepts of Lent and Advent as means of organizing and structuring the worship and educational experiences. It also allows these churches to employ the familiar idiom of Catholicism and its adjuncts as a way to appeal to potential converts with experience in those liturgically oriented traditions. As an Episcopalian - and occasional congregant in a Lutheran parish - I always found these moments in the liturgical calendar a way to connect with Christian traditions that, in some cases, stretch back over the millenia. They also remind one of the fluid nature of Christian belief over the centuries - a quicksand-like reality to be avoided by the more dogmatic denominations that prefer ignorance over an informed faith.

I tend to avoid making New Year's resolutions, realizing that they'll most likely be cast aside in a short time. (Authoring this blog was actually borne of a resolution last January, and is thus one of the few New Year's promises I've ever kept.) Yet instead of dwelling on promises and resolutions - or things "done and left undone" in the language of the prayer book, here's hoping that 2008 is a year of epiphanies, whether divined in the shower, while walking down the street, or engaged in prayer.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

I've done some of my very best crying in the shower...