Monday, January 04, 2010

Chalking the Door: Church Goes Domestic


Yesterday on the way home after church I stopped by a local dollar store and picked up a packet of chalk...for our first ever household Epiphany blessing/chalking of the doors.

I've never done this before. But over the past couple of weeks I've experienced an odd convergence of personal e-mails, Internet rabbit-hole meanders and readings that all seem to lead to discussions of this custom. "Hmmm," I thought. "Maybe the Universe is telling me something."

If this is an unfamiliar custom to you: In many countries households mark Epiphany by a general blessing of living quarters and, in some cases, by a ritual marking of main doorways as a means of blessing all who enter in the coming year. This idea of blessing resonates with me on any number of levels.

I was thinking about Epiphany anyway this weekend, and how at least in Lutheran circles, like so many other festivals that fall in mid-week, it's disappeared into the ether; and as a result laypeople lose opportunities to learn/refresh their memory of important Bible stories, history of the Church and major themes of Christian theology and worship. Yes, it's true; we're not in the Middle Ages, and the logistics of conducting worship services for all these special days, not to mention trudging off to them, simply isn't doable for most of us. But there is a means for preserving this wisdom and tradition: The so-called "Domestic Church."

I know that my more cerebral coreligionists are probably rolling their eyes right now. But I'm unabashedly riding this particular hobbyhorse this year. Just as we need more biblically literate laypeople in the ELCA, I think we need to inculcate a sense of everyday spirituality in our people -- ways to engage hearts as well as minds in our beliefs and heritage and practice. (Our Jewish friends are way ahead of us in this regard.) I believe that we are hardwired for ritual; and, to paraphrase one dog trainer, if you don't give people a ritual, they'll make up one of their own, and you won't like it.

I am also aware that some readers may have a difficult time observing traditional Christian holy days with questionable factual basis; who, for instance, respond to the issue of Epiphany by questioning the historicity of the Magi, sneering at the layers of folkloric embellishments to the biblical text, and so on. Well, that's okay; been there, done that. But maybe -- just maybe -- it's okay to turn off the historical criticism for a few minutes on any given day, and just play with the stories of faith, because they're our stories to tell to one another, generation to generation.

And if you'd like to chalk your door this Epiphany and ritually give the gift of blessing and goodwill to everyone who enters your home in the year to come, in Christ's name, here's how that works.

9 comments:

St. Inuksuk said...

Chalking the doorway is Germanic.
You will find this done in Austria and Germany, even in Switzerland.
We did this in our church one year - although with painted metal frames where chalk won't take - we had to use black construction paper strips with white chalk and tape over the lintel.
It's a wonderful reminder through the year of God's blessing of our house and all within.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I will consider this. I like the Epiphany thing: the Light shown forth to the world. Important, but as you say, often overlooked. I see it as begun by the inclusion of the Magi, but not because of them.

LutheranChik said...

I once read a story about an individual who, as a spiritual discipline, made it a point of silently blessing people he came in contact with during the day: the supermarket clerk; the bus driver; the anonymous people waiting with him at the corner to cross with the light. This touched me enough to still remember it. And if we really took seriously the concept that, as the people of God and ambassadors of God's Reign in the world, we can do stuff like this...well...

Beth said...

Of course, the other way to work in those midweek festivals is to shove at least a few of thwem over to Sunday. We used the Epiphany readiongs at our church last night.

LutheranChik said...

It's interesting that the ELCA lectionary didn't do that this year...we did the Christmas 2 texts instead.

Tom in Ontario said...

This week is my 8th Epiphany at this church and our 8th Epiphany worship service. It's one of the principle festivals of the church so we do it on whichever day it falls. Attendance wasn't always great so a few years ago we instituted a potluck supper (6 p.m.) before worship (7 p.m.) and then the choir sticks around after worship for practice. When Epiphany fell on a Sunday we had a potluck after that morning's worship. Including food is usually a surefire way to boost attendance.

It also marks the end of the Christmas season. It makes me feel a little melancholy but it's a touch of celebration, the last hurrah for Christmas.

Rev Scott said...

I have meant to do this for several years but always forgot on the day of Epiphany. Thanks to your post, I'm going to remember this year!

altar ego said...

I didn't know about chalking, and I love rituals like this that help make the day/occasion stand out. Thanks for sharing this info, and for being light for us!

angela said...

I had a class where we discussed this and ultimately I got a book about blessings for special occasions. thanks for the reminder!