by Cara Holmquist
I gotta hand it to Year B; this is a tight epiphany season. Book-ended with proclamations of belovedness (even as New Year resolutions tend to falter).
These “bookends” of the season - the Baptism of Our Lord and the Transfiguration of Our Lord - open our eyes to see not only Christ, but ourselves in light of him. (As Philip invites Nathanael, “come and see.” Come and see One who knows you, who gives you your very self.)
At the baptism of Jesus, in Mark’s telling, it seems that only Jesus sees the Spirit descending, only Jesus hears the voice, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am pleased.” And then this Spirit, this new and shocking awareness, compels him into the wilderness for 40 days. I’m reminded of scary-honest moments in life, when you realize something important and you know, deep in the flesh, aw shit this is gonna change my life. And it might be a little while before the awareness is fully manifest in your living, but there is always that moment of truth: You are beloved.
This is no soft easy thing. This is not a cosmic participation trophy. Being God’s Beloved, my dears, is a call to YOU, and you alone, to be you, truly, fully, gloriously. Only you can. In all the particular beauties and challenges of your incarnation. And God jumps in with you, all the way under Jordan’s silty ripples.
You are beloved. This is a tough mercy, because half the time we are too hard on ourselves, and the rest of the time, too easy. It’s a good time to dwell with this.
New Year resolutions which appear ambitious and healthy, can risk us doing ourselves violence. Strict diets, manic exercising, meditating, all the get-your-shit-together idealization. We can easily spiritualize this, and you’ll find encouragement in the Christian book stores. Discipleship is a narrow way, after all, so get on with proving yourself worthy. No. You are beloved. Seek nourishment of body, spirit, and relationships, yes, but beware that conditional love for yourself that’s often hiding behind resolutions.
On balance, being God’s beloved can also be spiritualized (or maybe it gets pop-psychologized) into an infantilizing cocoon of so-called “love” that never dignifies you with an actual encounter, a collision of distinct selves. No. You are beloved, and therefore entrusted with becoming fully alive (work it out, fearful trembling and all) and lots of shit to do for the sake of your neighbor and creation.
At the far end of the season: the Transfiguration of Our Lord. An exclamation point of sorts, on the fact of God’s incarnation. God found flesh to be a fine dwelling and meeting-ground, and so along with Christ, every particular flesh (yes, YOU, Beloved) is transfigured, beloved, pleasing. And note how different this is than saying flesh is transcended, left behind or overcome! No, transfiguration is a momentary change that reveals the glory that is already always there. It’s glimpsed in moments of creative flow, of total aliveness. Moments of communion and celebration and holy fear. Things that can only happen to incarnate beloveds, and angels miss out!
Between these bookends, the season’s gospel readings give us calls to discipleship and several exorcisms. Beloved, come and see. Be still, as this tough mercy drives out from you both demons: self-accusation and self-satisfaction. And as the Epiphany season wraps up, go forth with eyes ready to see yourself and your neighbors transfigured, glorious, the dwelling place of God.