About a year ago the History channel premiered a story with geologist Scott Wolter regarding a theory on the connection between the famous Stonehenge in England, a Stonehenge like construction in Salem, New Hampshire, and the ancient sea mariners known as the Phoenicians.
Both the Stonehenge in England and the Stonehenge like structure in New Hampshire are accurate astronomical constructions aligning with the sun at the spring and autumn equinoxes and summer and winter solstices. Both stonehenges are perfectly aligned to one another and during the summer solstice they form a direct line of connection to each other and then to Beirut, Lebanon, which was the ancient home of the Phoenician people. It’s as if someone built them this way on purpose.
The Stonehenge structure in America is thought to be about 2400 years old and contains inscriptions to Baal, the God of the Phoenicians, which reads: “To Baal on behalf of the Canaanites this is dedicated.” Baal worship is referenced throughout the books of the Old Testament. The Hebrew people were constantly conflicted in their worship life between the God of Abraham, Yahweh, and the pagan god of the region, Baal. The Phoenicians may have called themselves “Canaanites.”
The Phoenicians were a mixed cultural group of people who lived along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Their culture thrived for about twelve hundred years, from 1500BCE to about 300BCE. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Phoenicians was an alphabetic writing system that became the root of the Western alphabets when the Greeks adopted it.
In the episode Wolter interviewed another scientist who speculated that the Phoenicians were such expert ship builders that they could easily have built a ship that would transport them to America. He shows images on carvings found at the stonehenges and in excavation sites of ancient Phoenician cities that depict a flat map of the world with the continents of Africa, Europe, and America in accurate detail.
The Phoenicians were expert sea farers because they knew how to read the stars and understood the significance of the north star for navigation.
Today we celebrate the second Sunday after Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany, which is technically tomorrow, Jan. 6, the twelfth day of Christmas.
On the feast of the Epiphany we are invited to be open to the spirit. The spirit invites us to spend time listening to where the spirit is calling us. The spirit invites to wonder where God is calling us this year, as individuals, and as a faith community. Discerning God’s desire for us involves an active process of prayer and listening. Discernment is a discipline that takes practice.
I don’t know about you, but, I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps this is because I don’t like to set goals for myself that I know I won’t live into. I know, even before I begin, that if I say I am going to exercise every day for thirty minutes that I will fail. Sure, I’ll be really good and dedicated and disciplined for a while. But eventually something will happen, I’ll be too busy or I’ll get sick, and before I know it a week or a month will go by and I will not have lived into my goal. Then I’ll just tell myself I’ll start again next week, and maybe I will. But, most likely I won’t. So I’ll spend the rest of the year feeling guilty. I’ll make a few meager attempts to reinvigorate the workout routine but I will always, eventually, find a stretch of time when I won’t be able to live into it and once again I’ll give up.
No, I spare myself the guilt and anxiety and demoralization by simply avoiding making resolutions in the first place.
I am, however, a highly disciplined person who lives by a couple of guiding principles. One principle I live by is the desire to be as healthy as I can. This means that everything I do is structured around how it will enable me to be healthy. Aiming to live a healthy life determines how I take care of my body, my mind, and my spirit. This is a very different discipline than setting goals and making resolutions. Living a life structured on certain principles enables me to be adaptive and yet focused, to listen and respond, to be attentive to the Spirit’s presence. Another principle by which I live my life is prayer. Now my prayer life is not the traditional down on my knees kind of prayer in which I engage God with words. That kind of prayer works for many people, but not for me. I pray silently, no words. Just me, and the ever silent presence of God. Occasionally God makes God’s presence known, usually later, through other people or something I read or hear. I also pray through movement. When I need to clear my head and open myself up to God I take a walk or go to a yoga class. Prayer in action is Biblical – Tobit, a character in the Apocrypha, is portrayed talking to God while walking his dog. A third way I pray is with scripture; reading and reflecting on the words of the Bible as I prepare a sermon is a prayer activity for me. Perhaps prayer is the primary principle that keeps me healthy in mind, body, and spirit.
A colleague of mine, who is the pastor of a church in Idaho, has a discipline that her congregation practices on the Feast of the Epiphany called “starwords.” On Epiphany, every member of the congregation, including the clergy, are invited to take a star with a word on it. The word is their word for the year. It is a word that is meant to open up one’s prayer life and help one see new ways in which God may be at work in one’s life, revealed through reflection and time spent with the starword.
I think this is an interesting experiment for us to engage in as our discipline and prayer practice. So take a starword of your own. Put it where you can see it and remember it. Ponder it over the next year. Let the word form your prayer life however it may do so. Let the word bring you new insights into who you are or how you are in relationship with God and other people. Like the Stonehenge connections that are based on the stars and cross over continents and seas, let the word help you build your own connections with God, yourself, and others. If you don’t like the starword you draw, maybe that is an important place to begin. Why don’t you like it? But, also will you still dislike it after a year of living with it and letting it pray through you?
A star led the wise ones to Jesus, the incarnate word made flesh, and they found the living presence of God. May your star word lead you to new insights on how God is working in and through you this year.
inside each star I added a text box and a word like “trust,” “vision,” “mission” and so forth.