In the farthest pasture of Blackwater Bluff, my retreat house in New Hampshire there is a tree next to an outdoor kitchen oven – this tree. When the house was built before the civil war, the farmers needed a summer kitchen so that they could cook the massive pots of vegetables they bottled, jarred and stored for the winter. The stove of the farmhouse is at the base of the stairs in the center of the house so that when cooking, the house was being heated. But in summer heating the house was undesirable, so this stove (to the right of the tree) with five bread ovens, three surface fires and two marble slabs for kneading and cutting was installed in the field.
Next to it has grown this tree which is covered in lights all year round. In the darkness, it is lovely to sit in the farmhouse and see this tree way out in the field by the bluff over the river and near the bee hives. It is the light in the darkness and it is my version of a night-light.
We are all sometimes frightened in the night from what goes bump and what may, perhaps, be under the bed. So we pray through our fear the way a runner runs through her cramps. Yesterday’s psalms said that tears may come in the night but that joy comes in the morning. So we pray for the light to come into the darknesses of our lives. We pray that God will see our fear, anger, grief, frustration. We pray that evils in the world and in the church and in our lives will be vanquished. We pray that evil rulers of church and state will be crushed by God in an old testament language to which we do not admit in the light but which somehow eases the pain a bit.
And then we wake, wash, dress and get to work to do the best we can to co-create our prayers with a God whose shyness and seeming vulnerability-of-love engage our self-offering with sometimes startling clarity.
Epiphany is a season in which to find the nite-lights of our lives, grab our prayer beads or teddy bears and pray like hell. It is a time of longing for salvation. It is, as Thomas Merton says, “le point vierge” (the virgin point) of the day before sunrise when all of life in nature asks to exist; and God lights the sky with a “yes.” And there is morning, and there is evening – another day.