Picture a Jack-In-The-Box. You know, the kind that plays 'Pop Goes the Weasel' while you turn a crank at uneven speed until, POP!, a character bursts unexpectedly from the closed tin box. A Jack-In-The-Box is now what I see whenever I think of Epiphany. At the Bleeding Heart Sacred Space event on January 31, these boxes became a metaphor for the surprise of Epiphany. The Gospel story was not what people expected it to be 2000 years ago. Jesus was full of surprises. He still is.
He asks us to love surprising people, and often works among those people, rather than among those of us who'd think ourselves 'insiders'. He dances along the surprising fringes of culture. He spends surprisingly little time with people whose main concern is maintaining and protecting their Religion.
These are the truths I was grappling with during our Epiphany Sacred Space event. But enough abstraction. Let me tell you what we did.
The evening took place at The Studio, an art space run by Glen Ronald. It has a warehouse feel, white and grey except for the exuberant splash of colour brought by Ronald's artwork, hung on every available surface. There were tables and easels in the middle of the space, creating a sort of labyrinth to navigate and quiet, solitary pockets of hidden space where chairs awaited participants.
A Small Group and a Large Question
There were four Jack-In-The-Boxes present, and if we count them as attendees, 10 of us in all. We were small in number, but willing to tackle the very large question that began our evening together;
Who do you distance yourself from?
It's a question too big and too important–too revealing–to answer honestly without time for reflection, and perhaps to prep and preface one's answer. So we didn't answer the question right away, leaving the pregnant promise of a difficult discussion later on. The night continued as follows.
What Do You See?
We took 10 minutes to draw ourselves. First right side up and then, to take a page from Betty Edwards' Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain, upside down. We chose from a variety or art materials to better or chances at a decent likeness. I can't be the only one who gets inspired by new crayons, pastels and pencils? We scattered to private floor spaces, tables and chairs, and tried to draw. Most of us found this challenging. I was pleased with my moderate skill, but disturbed by the fact that I cannot remember the exact look of my own nose. It tilts up, I think. but how much? How big is it? How high above my lips?
When I cannot even recall my own face, do I even know myself that well? And how, then, can I correctly perceive those around me? Perhaps they are full of surprises? Epiphanies?
We were called back together and progressed to the middle movement of the evening which I'll call 'Grab Bag'.
Six readings were referenced on six scraps of paper, scattered at random in a cloth shopping bag. In turn, we each drew a paper, and did what we were told. Thus, the 'order of service' was out of our hands and, well, surprising.
Some papers read, 'scripture'. The participant would then grab a Jack-In-The-Box from somewhere in the room, bring it back and turn the crank. All played 'Pop Goes The Weasel' until, at some surprising moment their lids would pop, springing a stuffed creature. Inside the lid was a scripture reference from the Lectionary (basically a weekly Bible reading plan used by Christians around the world for centuries). The participant would then read that scripture.
1 Corinthians 13 instructed that, above all, we must always love. We cannot see clearly now–cannot understand the details–but we must love anyways. In Luke 4, Jesus proclaims himself the fulfillment of Messianic promise, but not necessarily, or at least not only, for those who were expecting him. He will go to outsiders, to the disdained, despised and discarded. The crowd of listeners, praising him moments ago, attempt to throw him from a cliff. We also read about Jeremiah, whose calling to speak to those even outside his own nation brought a double surprise, for he was only a boy.
Love. Surprise. Dissapointment. Difficulty. Surprise. Love.
A prayer written by Scott (you can read it below) and two stories completed the readings in the grab bag. My story came from the book, Speaking My Mind, by Tony Campolo. It touched on a powerful move of God among the gay community - a move that surprised a preacher. Scott recounted his discovery that an unabashed ultra-conservative colleague was out-loving him.
Flesh and Blood
Soaking in these scriptures and stories, we moved to Communion. Josh introduced the sacrament, and we served one another in turn, Radiohead's 'No Alarms and No Surprises' playing low and distant. While we waited, we could retrieve one more surprise from under our chairs - an excerpt from 1 Corinthians 13 telling us some small and huge thing about love. "Love doesn't strut". "Love doesn't want what it doesn't have" (The Message).
During Communion, two folks wandered in from the street. Drawn in by Glen Ronald's artwork, they wanted to look around. I left to chat with them, and tried to explain what on earth was going on over at the other side of the room. Six people, quiet. Jack-In-The-Boxes. A shared cup and tiny bread. It turns out they were followers of Jesus themselves, and were quite interested in our little experiment. I handed them some materials and hope they'll join us again some evening. It was one more nice surprise.
I returned to a sharing circle, each person giving their answer to the night's opening question, "Who do you distance yourself from?"
And this is the part I cannot convey well here. This is the part where relationship and proximity and the movement of spirits with Spirit make all the difference. Suffice it to say, the question ran deep. There were some tears. There was much thought. Some revelations.
So, what would you say?
Who do you distance yourself from?
The Scripture's words bouncing off of this question, we left with thoughts of love. Challenging, surprising, upending love.
It's the challenge I hope The Bleeding Heart can rise to in every endeavour. It's the challenge I hope to live, and not just talk about.
There were epiphanies, and there continue to be even as I reflect on that night.
A BLEEDING HEART EPIPHANY PRAYER
by Scott Drennan
Father of all people,
We ask for your blessing on us.
We confess that:
We are people of the radical routine. We are people of the marginalized in-group. We are people of politically correct possibilities.
We confess that:
We push the boundaries out and implode the interior. We stand at the margins and judge the centre. We seek the new and the new-that-was-old and condem the merely old as "it's been done."
You are the God who draws together the whole. You are the God of both the outside and the inside. You are the God of the radical ancient and of the passe. You are the God of the ordinary and the extraordinary. You are the God of radicals and those they reject. You are the God of all possibilties.
We ask that you draw us around the edges and through the centre. We ask that you open us to the near neighbour as well as to the far. We ask that you settle us in the familiar and the former as well as the fantastic.
Burn our sophisticated selves with the fire of your Holy Spirit. Drown our cynicism in the waters of your baptism. Kill our pride with the feast of your flesh and blood. Jesus, we ask this in your name.
Sacred Space nights are created in community, then enacted in community two weeks later. Each event seeks to wrestle with the scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary in a creative, communal way. We pray, read Scripture and take Communion together. Other than that, all bets are off.
We invite you to become part of the process. Find out when our next event is on our calendar.