At Epiphany, we practice Jesus’s invitation to transformation. The spiritual exercises we follow produce experiential learning. Their practice helps us align our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls with God’s intention for our lives.
Regular spiritual practice trains our character so that we habitually, even accidentally, love all our neighbors, understanding them to be fellow children of God.
Versions of these exercises are found in all the great religious traditions. The first five categories of spiritual exercise are grounded in time — daily prayer, weekly worship, observance of the Sabbath, working toward a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and living into the rhythms of the liturgical calendar. The remaining two exercises help us manage the material life through fasting and tithing.
Introduction to Morning Prayer
God is not religion, God is life. Worship is the spiritual exercise organized to facilitate individual and communal gratitude to God for life. It is the most powerful, impactful, and formative of all of the spiritual exercises.
The primary form of worship in the Episcopal church is Sunday Eucharistic. The word comes from the Greek word “eucharistia” which means “thanksgiving.” The Eucharist is “The Great Thanksgiving” in which we meet God in the ordinary substances of bread and wine. When we partake of the Eucharist, we share in the life of Jesus Christ and become partners with him in life and death and eternal life.
The mechanism of worship offers all people an avenue by which to engage their greatest worship charism. There is silence for the meditative. There are physical postures for the kinesthetic person. There is art and architecture for the aesthetically oriented and music for those who sing or those so moved by music. There is food to taste and candles to gaze upon and, at some services, incense to smell. There are words of scripture, for those captivated by story, and there is analysis through sermons for the intellectually oriented. There is intercessory prayer and silent prayer and a moment in the prayers to offer personal praise and petition. There is physical touch through the greeting of the peace. The order of the Episcopal service is designed to include the charisms of all people united then unfolded, so each person’s soul can be refreshed in union with the souls of those worshipping together, all in unity with God.
Prayer is an intimate conversation with God. It deepens our relationship with God and resets our internal spiritual compass. As is the case with all relationships, the more we attend to it, the more benefit it yields.
Some people say they pray all of the time. If that is you, terrific. And yet, still set aside time for God. Intentionally give thanks, express petitions, wonder through issues, and just listen. Prioritizing our time to be with God, not just when we want to, but when we told God we’d show up, says something about the mutuality of relationship we seek with God. Prayer is a two-way conversation. God shows up for us, and we show up for God.
Prayer may be as structured as reading a piece of scripture and reflecting upon it. It may be asking a question and gazing upon an icon or a candle flame to help still our own inner commentary. It may be as simple as quietly observing our breathing and the nature of what arises and how we react to it.
Some prayer sessions will be rich and wonderful, and some will be full of distractions, but the habit honors the lines of communication we hope to have with God. When the day comes that we really need to talk to God, we’ll know how.
Mondays at 4:00 pm (Zoom) and Wednesdays at 10:00 am (Zoom)
Epiphany parishioner Michael Glass teaches this weekly class using mindful motion to explore traditional yoga postures designed to improve health, wellness, flexibility, and balance. Sometimes called Hatha Flow, participants connect movement into and out of yoga poses through synchronized breath. This is a free class with an all-levels approach welcoming to beginners and more experienced yogis. Many participants claim Epiphany as their spiritual home, but sessions are open to everyone, and no registration is required. For more information or the Zoom link contact Michael Glass at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Daily Office is based on the ancient practice of prescribed times of prayer each day. The name comes from the Latin officium divinum meaning “divine office” or “divine duty.” These short services are lay-led and include readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and a Gospel reading, as well as prayers and confession.
The liturgical calendar is the ancient way of matching worship with the life of Jesus. Through these recurring patterns we are formed and re-formed by the stories of Jesus’ life, so that our life, by imitation and association, is immersed in the presence of God.
These are two components of the Christian calendar.
The first cycle of seasons covers about one quarter of the calendar year and is focused on the incarnation—that is, the birth of Jesus—and how God’s presence with us in this world focuses our attention on mercy and justice. They are Advent, Christmas, and the season after Epiphany. To worship one’s way through this cycle of seasons is to orient one’s actions on the needs of the marginalized and disenfranchised.
The second cycle of seasons covers about three quarters of the calendar year and is focused on the resurrection. They are Lent, Easter, and the season after Pentecost. To worship one’s way through this cycle of seasons is to orient one’s life on our eternal relationship with God, and by doing so, live fearless, joyful lives.
Sabbath is a time set aside every week for the practice of Shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word that means something like peace, but more so. Shalom is like being held by God, hugged by God, in a way that makes us feel whole, healthy and, maybe even holy. Sabbath is a time to know ourselves as the person that God intends us to be.
Sabbath requires intentionality. It is an exercise, and as such, only comes into being through planning and implementation. The three days leading up to Sabbath are times of preparation, and the three days following Sabbath are times of remembering, and Sabbath itself, is a day of being who God made us to be.
The first step in creating the practice of Sabbath is picking the day. It may be Sunday, but it doesn’t have to be. It only needs to be the same day, week in and week out. Four features of Sabbath include: beauty, holy time, feasting, and playing.
The 20th century Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote: “God’s beauty is God’s power to attract, to give pleasure, to create desire, to awaken joy and wonder.” Seek within Sabbath to touch that which gives pleasure, creates desire, and awakens joy and wonder. It may be a walk in nature or an act of creation like painting or attending a music performance.
Set aside time for adoration and contemplation. Church worship and/or private devotion is a part of Sabbath, as is study, particularly of holy texts, as well as reflection upon your life. Journaling is one way to do this. Another is intentional time with a dear friend reflecting on life. Napping is another way to enter into holy time. The point of the pursuit of this holy time is to set aside an intentional period each Sabbath to engage with God.
This means planning a meal, making it together, putting it on the best china, decorating the table with flowers, wearing your good clothes, and inviting others to join you. Do the preparation early by having the grocery shopping all done.
This might mean a bit of gardening or singing or painting or playing ball. It may even mean some intimate time with your spouse. Play opens our hearts and minds to one another, and it cultivates a spirit of creativity, passion, and purpose, all while having fun.
Historically, Christian pilgrimage was understood to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Jerusalem. 20th Century Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “You cannot fully understand the deeper meaning of language and concepts of a particular religion unless you have shared the context of experience of its disciplines.” Pilgrimage unites Christians throughout time who have sought God by breaking the routines of their life to travel, worship and pray where others have done the same throughout the ages.
The organizing principle of pilgrimage at Epiphany is “first the Holy Land.” If you take no other pilgrimage in your life, this is the one to take.
The Holy Land pilgrimage finds its place of primacy because it takes us into the context of the life of Christ. To walk where Jesus walked puts an entirely different perspective on all scripture. It gives one the eyes to see what Jesus saw, to feel the earth that Jesus walked on, to watch the sunset as he saw it set and rise as he saw it rise. The sounds of Jerusalem are different today than they were 2,000 years ago, but they are also the same. The smells are different, but they are also the same. A pilgrimage is a gift to the sojourner, but also a prayer to God. It is a living, breathing, moving prayer.
Epiphany is a pilgrim’s parish. Since 2009, Epiphany has taken 6 pilgrimages to the Holy Land, a study pilgrimage to Cambridge University, and walking pilgrimages from Farnham, England to Canterbury, England, and twice from Heavenfield, England to Lindisfarne (Holy Island), England. There is always another pilgrimage being planned at Epiphany.
Fasting is the spiritual exercise that gives us mastery over our body. Fasting is simple. It is simply denying our body something that it is in the habit of having. By doing this, our spirit, that is our will, asserts its rightful place as the decision-making center for our personhood. When our body, in its pursuit of its carnal desires and habits, becomes the decision-making center of our being, we become ill, sick, uncentered, and isolated from the person God made us to be. Fasting keeps us in good and right relationship with our body and God.
A common approach to fasting:
Step 1: Set your objective by answering the question: “Why Am I Fasting?”
Step 2: Make your commitment by answering the questions:
Step 3: Prepare yourself physically
Fasting requires reasonable precautions. Consult your physician first, especially if you take prescription medication or have a chronic ailment.
Step 4: Put yourself on a schedule
For maximum spiritual benefit, set aside ample time for rest, prayer, study and worship.
Step 5: End your fast gradually
Step 6: Observe, meditate and pray to best understand the outcome of your fast.
Tithing is the spiritual exercise that gives us mastery over our material surroundings and prioritizing our material life. The exercise of the tithe begins by acknowledging that everything we have comes from God; our life, our skills, our family, the place of our birth, all comes from God. Money is the clear, universal symbol of the material life. It is what allows us to navigate and negotiate in the world. The tithe is the action of giving money to the church in gratitude for the life we have been given by God. It is supposed to be the first expense paid with the income we have in acknowledgement that without God we have nothing at all.
The tithe keeps our relationship with material things in perspective. Unlike charitable and philanthropic giving, the tithe is an act of gratitude, not given for impact or achievement or recognition, but rather in humility and with thanksgiving. Tithing gives up control and outcome as an exercise that reminds us of how little control and impact we really have. The church is the recipient of the tithe as the institution organized to worship the God who made all things, and gives life to all things, and put us on this earth, at this time, for God’s purpose and mission. To make the tithe your first donation each week or month or year is to relegate all other material needs and passions less important than gratitude to God for all that you have. This is how the tithe reduces the material world’s tyranny over our lives.
How much is the tithe?