Epiphany: In Celebration of the Journey

Guidance on using the lectionary.
Lectionary readings for January 6, 2017: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

“A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.” Richard Rohr

Today we celebrate epiphany—the “showing forth” or “the revelation” of Christ in the world. Epiphany takes its themes from the journey of a group of pagan astrologers who left familiar territory to find the Christ child and explore his authenticity for themselves.

This revelation did not come to them while they passively waited; indeed, they had to strike out on a new kind of journey in order to find what they were looking for.

A Good Journey 

Epiphany is a wonderful celebration for those who are committing themselves more deeply to the process of spiritual transformation, for it contains themes of journeying from the known to the unknown with only a mysterious light to guide us.

Compelled by an inner desire for a deeper experience of God’s presence and guided by the appearance of some glimmer of spiritual possibility, we are brought to that choice point that is at the heart of all spiritual journeying. We must leave the familiar—with all the trappings that keep us feeling confident, secure, in control—for places that are unknown and require humility, letting go, and moving bravely in a new direction.

Whereas Advent themes have to do with receptivity and waiting, the themes of Epiphany highlight our response to the showing forth of God’s presence in our lives, beckoning to us to move beyond all we think we know. It has to do with seeing something new on the horizon that stirs something new in us.

In response to this glimpse of the More (which may, as yet, be undefined), we strike out in search of a deeper experience of spiritual reality. We don’t just talk about our desire; we walk toward it with great intention, making concrete choices along the way.

The Letting Go

I wonder what priorities and personal ambitions the wise men had to leave behind in order to take such a strange journey. What kings and councils were clamoring for their services, claiming that they were indispensable in crafting plans and strategies? What kinds of complexity and problem solving were pressing in when the star they had been watching rose in the Eastern sky, indicating it was time to follow?

But no matter….they set off anyway, responding to what was deepest and truest within them. It was a physical journey, but it was also a spiritual journey that involved learning to follow guidance from strange sources, letting go of familiar settings, recognizing the presence of God in places smaller and more humble, more human and more intimate than the places the ego journey takes us.  And there was a whole new set of questions to ponder.

O God,
who am I now?
Once, I was secure

in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging

unquestioning of 

the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language
the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine
so that I may not become deterred
by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make

toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven

but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognized…

Help me find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

Unfamiliar Territory

The Magi’s journey eventually led them to a strange country, a strange setting, common ordinary people.  But in this strange place so far outside their comfort zone, they found what they were looking for.  They saw the child with Mary his mother and they knelt down and paid him homage.

One of the ways these “wise ones” recognized the showing forth of God’s presence is that it resonated differently than what they were accustomed to. Being in Christ’s presence stirred their emotions (they were overwhelmed with joy), moved their bodies (to kneel down and worship), overflowed in generosity of spirit (they gave him extravagant, heart-felt gifts), and opened them to spiritual guidance for their next steps (which came to them in a dream.)

These wise ones were probably more comfortable living and leading from their heads, but to be overwhelmed by joy…to have a visceral experience of worship…to receive God’s guidance through a dream (of all things!)…this was a new kind of journey. Eventually they would return home (by a different way) but they would be changed.

Walking with the Wise Ones 

So, what might we learn from walking in the shoes of those who left familiar territories to follow a mysterious star?  How is our own journey mirrored in the journey these seekers took?

What priorities and personal ambitions might we need to leave behind in order to take a new kind of journey?

Might we notice that real insight, revelation, enlightenment (as the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 3) is sometimes found in the most unexpected places?

Might we learn that our bodies have wisdom that our minds know nothing of, telling us when it is time to drop to our knees and give our allegiance to something small and humble rather than something large and impressive?

Might we discover that worship—an extravagant giving of ourselves in response to God-come-near—is one sign that we have truly “seen” Christ?

Could it be that sometimes there is a need to disobey (or at least side-step) the “powers that be” in order to respond to something truer? Is there something to be learned about the nature of discernment—how spiritual guidance is given and received?

And, when it is time, are we willing to return to our own country—the place where we are called to live and lead—bearing witness to a truer wisdom born from a humble encounter with Christ?

Isn’t this the kind of leadership people are longing to find and follow?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2015-2017
Poem by Kate Compston, Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, 1990.

Ruth Haley Barton

Ruth (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is Founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Invitation to Retreat, and Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest (Oct 2022).
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Thank you for encouragement, attentiveness and peacefulness in your reflection. May God continue to bless your journey!

Thank-you for this reminder and challenge to let go of the things that hinder us from growth, to look for God’s leading in insignificant and unexpected places, and to share the good news with those around us.

“letting go of familiar settings, recognizing the presence of God in places smaller and more humble, more human and more intimate than the places the ego journey takes us”

Oh my gosh – yes!!! This is so timely for me, as I’m finding myself in the middle of a world-shifting family change. I have no choice but to look for Him in the most seemingly insignificant things, because that’s where He breathes assurance and hope to me.

Thank you, Ruth. Your meditation met me exactly where I’m at.

[…] Epiphany: In Celebration of the Journey by Ruth Haley Barton for Transforming Center […]

Boom…. Ruth this was absolutely inspiring…. so stoked for all the “new” I’m embracing in 2017!

The quote from Richard Rohr stuck a deep chord within and led me to pore over these thoughts this morning. My faith tradition has long been one of not going somewhere else…you are to unquestioningly stick within the parameters given.

About 15 years ago I started a journey with tiny steps. I knew something was missing…the God (god?) I served wasn’t the same mighty God that was depicted in Scripture. So I began to seek out other teachers and my faith grew so much. I was definitely learning to see the True God.

Then two years ago I was compelled to plead with God to reveal as much of Himself to me as He would…I told Him that my heart was open to whatever He wanted to teach me, however radical it seemed to me. I want to know Him fully. I don’t want to get to Heaven and be disappointed that I didn’t go “all in” on earth. He has been gracious to lead me to new places, and I am in awe of His greatness.

But I find that fear and confusion overtake me, which has to be from satan. He is so crafty. If others were in my situation and they came to me asking for guidance, I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage them to press on. But I doubt my own motives and abilities, and am stuck in a place without movement.

I want to glorify God. But how do I keep myself out of the way? Please, for those who have read this far, would you pray for me? For clarity, for empowerment from the Spirit, and for boldness in the Name of Jesus? I don’t want to live in fear any longer.

It really sounds like you are on the right journey. I did stop and pray for you. You are not alone. I have found comfort in realizing I CAN’T figure it out on my own and that is part of the journey – trusting God with the confusion and fear. I recently saw a quote which basically made the point that Christians who rediscover truth often overemphasize this truth. That doesn’t sound comforting but then I remembered that we were designed to be in community. My brothers and sisters on the SAME journey help me recognize truth and compensate for all of my failings. I can hold disparate views within Christendom because we see in a mirror dimly. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12

Blessings to you and to all who are willing to go somewhere new and uncomfortable with God.

Praying for you…this sounds just like the good journey the magi’s experience leads us to consider. You are blessed with a great desire for God and that is a desire of the heart God promises to meet (Psalm 37:4)–although maybe in different times and ways than you expect!

Ruth, it thrills me that you responded. I figured this would be an old thread long out of sight for you! Thank you for the reminder that God will honor my desire to know Him, and that His ways and His timing are not the same as mine! Thank you so much for your prayers. <3

Thank you Jeffery. I sincerely appreciate the prayer and your encouraging words. The verse in 1 Corinthians brings comfort…what is going on now may not be what I think it should be, but Heaven holds the promise of 20/20 vision!

Thank you Ruth for this wonderful reflection. Couldn’t have come st a better time for me personally. I have sensed for some time that God is calling me to strike out into the unknown and unfamiliar and while I struck out a few years ago, I am finding this journey one of short bursts of light and then endings. So now here I am again, being challenged to trust as another ending had come. And while I have no idea how God will move, I have taken steps to move forward with the calling He gave me some years ago. Your writing has always inspired me. Thank you agai. For what you do.

You’re welcome!

In my quiet time this morning I read this: “Taking a risk on your own behalf is a movement toward wholeness rather than selfishness.” Linda Douty, in “Rhythms of Growth”
I thought perhaps it might speak to you as it seems you are in that risk taking place as well. Blessings on the journey.

[…] I mentioned Ruth Haley Barton’s wonderful Epiphany post. You can read it here. […]

Thank you so much for this thought provoking post. I recently quit my job, unexpectedly, with no where else to go right now. I have been feeling such an uneasiness in my soul for a while now and though I did not intend to quit my job so suddenly and so soon. I thought I would at least have some direction because I am so used to being in control of my own life, being in my “comfort zone” and now that I have stepped outside of if, all my direction is gone.

I don’t feel like I am just flailing in the wind, necessarily, but instead I feel like I am being led and being called on to just be still and trust.

I have been feeling really strongly about starting my own business, which is creative in nature. I had a dream last night involving that exact same thing….the only thing is….it’s just so out of my comfort zone.

This post parallels some of the EXACT feelings and thoughts and dreams I have been having but have been unable to put into my own words or even make sense of.

It has given me some direction, especially when it comes to worship and trusting Him.

Thank you again!

So glad this came at just the right time. God is good that way. 🙂 Sounds like you are on a good journey!

[…] the help of the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner + podcast and several articles, (my favorite being Ruth Haley Barton’s that I posted to Facebook earlier this week), I feel like celebrating Epiphany is a simple way […]

[…] Epiphany: In Celebration of the Journey by Ruth Haley Barton […]

Today I am struggling with whether to keep my two day solitude retreat or to postpone it … reading your devotional was the resolve I needed to follow through. While I am not a “wise man” I feel the looming inbox, urgent, important, and vital all pressing and I am tempted to wait a week “till things are less crazy” as though things are ever less crazy. What I need to best handle all these things is two days away focused on Him to listen. Thank you!

Thank you Ruth this is so fresh and inspiring! I will be delving in deep on these thoughts as I look for parallels in my own journey.

[…] where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.” – Richard Rohr (via a great blog about Epiphany from Ruth Haley […]

I encountered God personally and profoundly for myself two years ago. This experience led me on a journey of finding great peace in solitude, knowing the love and compassion of God, a great joy, happiness in every situation, with this all fear seemed to just melt away that I carried for years. I continued to journey with God as he transformed my life, the gifts of understanding and intuition were his demonstration of this journey. For two years I could not find the words to communicate with others my experience with God other than to express using the words love and compassion, the emotions I experience day to day knowing and feeling God.
31st December 2015, for the first time I was able to speak of my experience and journey with God.
God is continually taking me to places and through situations, as I go with Him I can only look back with joy and love, knowing how far I have come on this journey.
I thank you for sharing this post as he uses to deepen the understanding of him.

Grateful for these timely words. My husband and I are moving to the states in June after 26 years serving overseas. Yesterday I was overwhelmed with the unknown of what lies ahead. Today I’m asking to learn to stop and worship Him as we go

Ruth, your simple question is such a profound one. How is my journey mirroring that of the “wise ones?” I wonder had I heard the news of Christs’ birth and been within travel distance of his manager, would I have journeyed to check it out for myself? Maybe the spiritual formation journey I find myself on today is a life-long version of that quest. What extravagant generosity do I bring? What overwhelming joy do I experience? What physical prompting to fall on my knees do I obey? Time to shut off the screen and ponder these gift questions in my heart. God bless you, Ruth.

Thanks, Leslie. I think we should all turn off our computers and ponder…!

Thanks Ruth. Excellent stuff.

Silence & Solitude started me on a journey of going deeper after 3 decades of following Jesus. Then I began Journey with Jesus by Larry Warner in Oct. it’s been a slow go as I have stayed in the preliminary exercises of seeking a greater awareness of God’s love before moving on. Yesterday, quite unexpectedly, a layer of protective scabbing was ripped off a very old familiar wound. I began this morning raw and still in pain and as I journaled to God, I ended with, “I am left with only one thing: to once again look to You and ask for your help and guidance. And I’d sure like to hear back from You soon.” Thankful for the salve offered by your words, Ruth, both healing and challenging. Thankful Jesus to hear back from You-blessed and humbled by Your kindness, compassion, patience, and love as You keep teaching & leading.

Thank you all so much for such heart-felt prayers and expressions of intent as we embark on a new year of spiritual journeying together. Your reflections inspire me to be ever more faithful to the Light of Christ and his mysterious ways in my own life, come what may.

thanks for this Epiphany reminder about the journey!

Thanks for this uplifting and thought-provoking post. Sadly, too many Christians spend a majority of their whole lives dwelling in, or traversing over routine places or familiar paths. I know; I’ve been one of those people for long periods at a time. There is at the core of every sincere believer a restless longing to move, to grow, to transform, and to discover. May 2016 be the year that God’s complete will and purpose come to fruition in my ministry, and in my personal journey of faith. God, give me courage to take that first tentative step, and help me trust you to guide me in all the steps that follow.

So moved by the way your post turned into a prayer at the end. I join you in that prayer.

Two of us, as co-directors of a non-profit ministry, are reviewing the past 15 years and looking ahead. There may be major changes. Thank for this reflection about the wise men. May we be as open to the unknown as they were and step boldly and confidently following the “Morning Star.” I’m eager to experience more of HIM through the Transformation Center.

As I celebrate my 51st year on this planet I find myself at a similar place as the Wise Seekers. I am ready for the “what’s next” but completely unsure how to find it. Yet hoping it finds me. After spending 4 years to get a theology degree and then working on church staff for 2.5 years only to realize perhaps church staff isn’t my calling – but still longing for that community, that connection. Knowing I have leadership skills and gifts and knowing I long to deepen my spiritual transformation. Might I be as open and aware of the Great Guidance we these Wise Seekers…
Thank you for this moving and personally relevant post today.

What a wonderful meditation to keep the heart hungry and seeking when often times the “excitement” of Christmas is waning. Thank you for these words and their mind set change effect.

This is beautiful. I feel like this is exactly where I am right now. “I am empty, unsure and uncomfortable”. I am in TC11 and have found it hard to study and found myself bored by things I feel like I ‘already know’. Trying to trust that this is where God wants me–that this is where He is leading me and wondering what my response ought to be. Thank you for this beautiful article.

My sense is that God is going to bless you (and is blessing you) as you stay faithful to the journey he has called you to. Seems like maybe this article was a little patch of God-light along the way.

Truly it was a little patch of God light! I love the way He speaks to us so personally!

Thank you so much for this insightful meditation, Ruth. It is exactly what I personally needed to propel me into this new year, when I plan to leave my workplace of 27 years and head into the next unknown season.

May God bless you and everyone at the Transforming Center as you continue to call us to faithful discipleship.
P.S. “The Christmas Hallelujah” that you sent became a highlight of Advent for me. I played it many times.
With appreciation –

Me too! So glad you loved it like we did.

Thank you, Ruth, for this challenge. Advent IS about the waiting, isn’t it? And after a month or so of celebrating our receptivity, might we respond and “move beyond all we think we know.” Your words, your challenge, is so strikingly relevant as we reflect on 2015… Ferguson, the University of Missouri, the refugee crisis. What is God calling us to? How can we boldly embrace the small stories in our lives to collectively alter the landscape of 2016? You’re a beautiful writer, and I so appreciate your message.

This is my question too…what IS God calling us to in the midst of all that is wrong right now? May we hear God answer this question for each of us and may we say ‘yes’ when he does.

Thank you, Ruth, for sharing this post. This is new to me, that this is the day the Magi saw the star and headed off. And as you write, they did so with intention, even though unsure where it would lead.

It’s interesting how the first week or so of the new year is a time for many of us to get immersed in plans for the year ahead. We try to establish some “known” path that we may follow. But here in the Epiphany we are called to journey into the unknown. Definitely brings a new flavour to my goal setting time.

And Kate Compton’s prayer – wow.

Thanks again, Ruth. May 2016 be a blessed year for you.

Grace and peace,

Yes, God’s ways are so often different than our ways…we want the known but he calls us to the unknown.

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