Long ago, a star appeared in the dark sky to guide the Magi to the infant Christ. Just as the Magi followed the star to Jesus, we too seek Jesus, trusting that God can and does use many signs (or stars) to guide us closer to the Divine presence. Our journey isn’t physical travel, but a spiritual seeking of new ways to see our relationship with God. During this liturgical season of Epiphany, in this new year of our Lord of 2023, we will be trying on a new spiritual practice called “Epiphany Star Words”. The use of star words, is a prayer practice connected to Epiphany and the new year. The idea is that a list of intention words, or guiding words, are printed on stars. A Star Word is a word that you carry with you throughout the year to guide you on your journey. It’s a word to focus on or pray over to help you listen more intently to the Spirit’s whisper to you in this new year. You will have an opportunity to choose your word, or allow the word to choose you, when we celebrate communion later in the service. Just as the Magi followed a star and went with it on a journey to a place unknown, we will follow the word on a star, allowing it to take our prayers to an unknown place.
Author and poet Christine Valters Paintner writes:
In ancient times, wise ones fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to the divine and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner’s fire and be stripped down to one’s holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered. Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life.
One tradition was to ask for a word – this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. We too might ask – “give me a word” – something to nourish me, to challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into. The word which chooses us has the potential to transform us. A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life.
God uses multiple ways to show up in our lives to guide us, and speak to us. We sometimes miss how God is showing up in our lives, how God is manifesting God’s spirit within us. Having an intention word to consider, allows for us to see God in ways we may not have seen God before. Star words offer a creative prayer practice during the season of Epiphany in this new year—to move closer to Jesus and focus our intention on a word(s) – offers a lens that might provide a way to look for God in our midst.
We are opening ourselves to the possibility that we can know God’s presence in our lives reflected through a single word. By receiving a star word chosen at random, we practice the spiritual task of receiving. When you come to choose a star word, try to accept and trust the first word that you receive, but if you aren’t feeling it, you can swap stars. I encourage you to place your star word(s) in a place where you will often see it – On your bathroom mirror. In your car. By the kitchen sink. Someplace where you will see it each day and be reminded of Christ’s presence that is guiding you in your life. You are invited to reflect on this word for the coming year…ponder what significance this word might have in your life, to allow reflection on how God might be speaking to you in connection to that word. Whatever word you get, let it sit with you.
There is a quote by T.S. Eliot from a poem called “Little Gidding”. For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.
God of the Sparrow By Kathy Manis Findley
On Epiphany Sunday, After we all had chosen our Star Words,
And discussed their most profound meaning, Our Zoom call ended.
I spiritedly rose up to my feet! With great enthusiasm!
After all, the Star Word I had just chosen Read, “RISE UP!”
The “Rise Up” worried me a bit, though, As Star Words often do,
Because STAR words always make me feel.
So I as I was “rising up” from my desk chair Expecting new vigor for a new year, Suddenly . . . Something startled me.
Oh, my! There’s a Star Word on the floor! Thank goodness it’s face down.
For a long time, I carefully walked around the Star Word on the floor,
Wondering what I should do about it.
I couldn’t just leave it on the floor. What should I do?
Was this another Star Word meant for me? Or could it be for all of us?
I decided to pick it up, turn it over, and see the Star Word;
But I couldn’t just pick it up – Unceremoniously, without any sacred intent.
Remember, I always feel something when I choose a Star Word.
Every time! Every year on the day we celebrate Epiphany,
And hear again Epiphany’s story of the Magi getting a glimpse,
An extraordinary glimpse, to be sure;
Of a brilliant star in the night sky! A star that probably left them breathless.
A star that would miraculously show them the way ahead, Even in the dark.
In the retelling of the Magis’ story, I always feel something; Always!
Just like I always feel something When it’s time to choose my Star Word,
Breathless, anxious, excited, afraid . . .
I wonder where and how my Star Word might lead me
Into night’s darkness. Into the uncertainty of the year to come.
Into a new way of being . . . All the while, pondering . . .
Things to change, Resolutions to honor, Amends to make,
Newness to discover,
New and holy promptings that will beckon me to rise up!
What will they be? Could my Star Word give me a hint?
All of these thoughts swept over me
As I picked up that Star Word from the floor
And held it in my hands, Holding my breath,
Hesitant to look on the other side.
Finally, I turned over the Star Word I had rescued from the floor.
When I read the Star Word, I knew instantly!
That this Star Word from the floor was for me.
It was for all of us. It was for everyone Who prays for,
Who hopes for, Who longs for,
PEACE ON EARTH
What about the Star Word on the floor? What was its holy message for us? Forgiveness. Amen.