We’re now well into the season of Epiphany, which offers us a change of pace until the next high season of the church. Such in-between periods of our lives that seem to be “nothing special” do, in fact, serve a special purpose, even though many of us, by temperament or cultural background, tend to think it necessary to be “busy” and feel guilty about not being so. In actual fact, Epiphany does offer its own special symbol that will connect all the readings we will hear between now and Lent. This is light; look for it, for example, in today’s Isaiah and Ps 36. Light is what enables us to perceive the world’s shapes and colours; to transform the unknown into knowledge; to receive the “revelation from above” (aka, epiphany!). In the northern hemisphere, the season coincides with an increase in daylight that may be perceived as a sign pointing to all the positive developments of the future. God knows we need such signs, but how do we truly participate in the hope that our traditions, readings, and even nature itself offer? How do we begin to see the world through the prism of knowledge given to us by God?
Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians gives one possible answer: by the gifts of the Spirit. This simple phrase implies quite a number of ideas. There’s the understanding that such gifts are given to us by God, even though we must do our part, first, by becoming aware of them, and then, by honing them with honest effort over a lifetime, recognizing that in all of this we will be guided by the Spirit. In addition, the passage insists on the diversity of such gifts in the absence of the hierarchy of purpose: “varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”. Now, the “common good” about which Paul is writing here is the life of the church; so, he lists the gifts specific to this context. But, of course, the Spirit inspires and continually guides plenty of other talents and activities. I am convinced that any of our creative pursuits stem from the relationship with God. Among the first things we learn about God in the scriptures is that s/he is the Creator; hence, if we are made in the holy Image of God, then we are, too. So, I wanted to draw your attention to three persons whose creativity continues to inspire many.
The first one is Jesus. His miracles, teachings, and interactions with people not only display an array of approaches to doing each of these, but also in their very essence, constitute creative acts. For example, when he took water, a substance ubiquitous in the material world, and made wine, that is, something quite new, he acted like an artist who would take oil/water/egg and some ground pigment, and produce a painting that has a life that is entirely separate from these humble beginnings. Or like a musician, who is able to put the laws of acoustics that are, in fact, entirely ordinary and circumscribed by the physical properties of material objects around us, plus the physiology of our ear, and create music that has the potential to affect us miraculously. Now, the author of the Gospel of John calls some of Jesus’ miracles “signs”: something of this world that points to the one beyond it — again, like paintings, dance, or music do. As such, Jesus’ miracles were creative acts of God that pointed towards the new iteration of this world, post its material form. Notice the phrase “on the third day”, when the wedding at Cana took place, which is parallel to the day Jesus’ grave was found to be empty, plus the stone vessels in which the water was transformed, like the stone tomb of Jesus. Note also that despite the word “third”, some people also manage to present it as the 7th day, by counting the phrase “the next day” as it occurs throughout the 1st chapter, still referring to the same concept of the first day marking the transition between the completion of the “old” creation, and the start of the New. Overly-simply put, Jesus’ human actions serve as signs of who he is as God. So, he creates wine, and then says “this is my blood”. He creates loaves, and says, “I am the bread of life”. He is risen from the dead, and he says, “I am the resurrection and the life”. He gives sight to the blind, and says, “I am the light of the world”. I can go on.
Miracles are hard to believe in, and require a fairly direct access to the divine power, which we have reasons to doubt in ourselves. But we can all participate in a sign, or let our creative acts serve as such. That’s why I wanted to mention the two examples of very human “creators” whose works point us as “signs” to our life in and with God. The first one is the author of the hymn we learned last week and will repeat today, “Open my eyes and let me see”. Effectively, it is a petition to the Spirit for a personal epiphany that many of us have uttered in our own prayers, echoing also Ps 119:18 and Eph 1:18. Clara H. Scott was an American composer (1841 - 1897) and the first woman to publish a volume of anthems. She lived a short life and died tragically just a couple of years after writing this hymn, but her work continues to point, as a “sign” to us being in the presence of God, even if it’s only while we sing the hymn and are moved by its words.
As per 1 Corinthians, there are many other ways we may employ our creativity to produce such “signs” of God’s presence. In fact, this “time-in-between”, which I mentioned at the beginning, is a great time to do so, as it poses fewer distractions. So in the midst of yet another lockdown, what is the special power you will embrace, express, improve, or try for the first time? I will conclude with the words of the second artist I wanted to mention, a contemporary Californian oil painter Hyatt Moore. These relate to his painting on the cover of our bulletin, and tie the 1 Cor and John rather beautifully, and are found on http://www.hyattmoore.com/blank-slate/2013/03/21/aging-wine/:
"Here are some lines from my sketch book, personalizing it all.
Lord, You have done your Wine-making miracle over and over . . . and done it again in me. Taking the plain water of my life and turning it into wine.
AND Inasmuch as the wine you create is always best, and with me now somewhat aged (flavored with anise and plum and a balance of tannins and acids with a hint of vanilla and dark chocolate) Wouldn’t it be best to pull out the cork, pour it around and let it be savored and drunk by all who have a taste and a thirst for such?
I’ll drink to that. The transforming miracle has begun in each of our lives, or if it hasn’t, it can. It’s only the mix of flavors that differ. Why not share it around?"