A Meditation on Cardboard Camels

Reflections on preparing for worship, seeking God and congregational life--and lots of church language for all of the above!

People sometimes wonder how clergy spend their time.  As a clergy person, I too sometimes wonder where the day went! Here’s a fun example: I just spent two hours watching a movie with my daughters while cutting out a four foot square cardboard camel for our Epiphany pageant this Sunday.

What’s Epiphany? A celebration that ends the twelve days of Christmas—On January 6 the magi, following an especially bright traveling star, arrived at Mary and Joseph’s house in Bethlehem, according to the gospel of Matthew (the event) and church tradition (the date). Magi?  Probably a reference to Zoroastrian astrologers—there’s no mention in the Bible of kings, or of any particular number of travelers.  The church celebrates the “epiphanos,” Greek for manifestation, of Christ to the Gentiles, and begins a liturgical season where we hear readings of Jesus’ manifesting his divinity through healing, teaching, and miracles.

All of this sounds about as far fetched as needing a cardboard camel!! Which, by the way, will be affixed by some as yet undetermined method to a little red wagon and pulled down the aisle by one of five or six children dressed as “magi/kings/wise guys,” a star, an angel, and yes Mary and Joseph and a doll in a manger. What indeed are we doing?

First, we’re teaching children one of the stories of our faith. I don’t expect anyone to literally follow a star (or bring a live camel to church)!, but I want to open the possibility that the divine can be found in both expected and wholly unexpected places, and that often we need someone else to confirm our belief that God is indeed present.

Second, we’re working together—children are engaged in the process of telling the story, and they’re contributing to the life of the congregation. Their actions, words, and attitudes matter.

Third, by jumping back and forth between a story of long ago and daily life, worship provides a lens through which to view daily life as sacred. When have we, child or adult, longed to know as clearly as astrologers map stars what to do and where to go?  When have we been filled with awe at the birth of a child?  When have we been so moved by love and awe that we willingly share precious gifts?  When has God suddenly been made manifest in joy, or forgiveness, or courage, increasing our ability to love and heal some part of our world? When have ordinary tasks like cutting out cardboard camels fed our souls?

All are welcome to check out the camel, the pageant, and the congregation this Sunday. More importantly,  all are welcome to join the search for God, for meaning, for community and healing and love made manifest in wondrous and surprising ways, however you worship or understand God.  

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