According to some tradition, Christmas isn’t over yet. Today is the 11th day of Christmas. That song…”on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” wasn’t just a randomly written folk song. In the orthodox liturgical calendar there are technically 12 days of Christmas – the first being Christmas day which is widely celebrated religiously, culturally, and commercially. The last day, the 12th day, marks the beginning of a liturgical season called Epiphany. In the greek language, the word epiphany means to reveal, to show, or to make manifest.
I love this word epiphany. Webster’s dictionary defines it as: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience. It’s a striking definition considering I often spend a lot of time seeking or trying to gain insight into things. I love to read and research. I love to ponder things and contemplate life. Those who know me and spend time with me know me as someone who you’re not likely to have a casual conversation with. I’m always looking underneath the surface of things.
Lately, I’ve been reading a book about vocation, by Parker Palmer. In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer writes, “If we are to live our lives fully and well, we must learn to embrace the opposites, to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials.” In my reading and reflection of his writing, and in examining my own gifts and vocation, I’ve come to terms with aspects of myself in ways that are both disturbing and relieving. I think we can spend a great deal of time trying to be things we are not. Or avoiding being who we are because of the limitations our gifts place upon us.
In my younger years, I was pretty much the same kind of girl I am now…I liked to read and write. I was quiet and focused. Sure, I had playful moments. I loved all the usual kid stuff…swimming, skateboarding, sledding, riding bikes…and I played just about every sport until I finally gave up softball in college. But if you put me in the house with a stack of books, I was good to go. I wasn’t a restless child, I didn’t need much company (well, I had three sisters so that was often enough!). My point is, in digging for “Who I am”…I’ve really just rediscovered who I’ve always been…. a writer. To write, requires one to sit still and focus on getting what’s in your head out onto paper…or the screen (as I’m doing now). To write also requires one to be comfortable with feeling stuck, and this odd feeling of nothingness that comes upon you. It’s akin to feeling, well, bored! But it’s in boredom’s finest moment that the muse shows up. Full of ideas. That emptying of yourself, and resisting the urge to fill the emptiness with some activity, gives my imagination the endless opportunity it desires to be filled. I know how to hold space, be present, make like a container and get filled.
So yay! I’m a writer. Vocational life crisis solved, right? Psssh. Except…coming to terms with oneself usually always means coming to terms with one’s whole self. My vocation is writing, and with it all the other mundane things I mentioned I’m really good at – being still, feeling empty, getting bored. And then new crisis emerges because none of this sounds like fun. Unless I shift my perspective and define fun based on what gives me pleasure, rather than what brings someone else pleasure.
And herein lies the Epiphany. Coming to terms with our gifts and our limitations may not always be a pleasant experience. Especially for those of us who pride ourselves in our ability to do anything or be anything. Though I often procrastinate and make excuses (would I truly be a writer if I didn’t?;) I typically do not like saying, “I can’t” do something. I like being capable and accomplished. I’m rewarded when I am able to perform tasks. And naturally, I love to be rewarded. Who doesn’t? But to get to the bottom of who we truly are, and what we are born to be and do in this world, we will have to come face to face with who we cannot be in this world. At first this meeting feels like defeat…but it passes. Like a dense fog lifting and then suddenly you see you are standing in the middle of a beautiful lavender field at sunset…sky above you stretching for miles…
You’ve been standing in this field your entire life. You just didn’t realize it.