Penumbra: God Revealed in the Shadows
Summary: Psalm 24 declares The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it, for [God] has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers – or as the poetry of the King James Version frames it – The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; This helps us understand that nothing is outside of God’s realm -in the light, in the darkness, and in the shadows.
This season we focus on Penumbra – a phenomenon where light forms a partial shadow around the edge of a complete shadow. This is visually experienced with the glow around an eclipsed object. The penumbra – the shadow space – is transition zone, where borders are blurred and interpretations diverge. The penumbra can be a place of both anxiety and intrigue, as it challenges our desire for definitive answers and invites us to explore the nuances of meaning. It also invites contemplation about our inner lives – that which shines, that which is hidden, that which is held as our shadow selves.
As we focus on the cosmic element of Penumbras we are reminded of the multicolor expressions throughout our galaxy. Not all stars burn white. We hold this close, particularly when we remember the way binaries of light and dark are used to reinforce colorism and racism. Shadows, source, and objects – all are holy and all exist beyond binaries.
Liturgically, Epiphany is the season of God’s glory revealed – a time when the ordinary and extraordinary cross paths revealing something greater. We will explore traditional Epiphany texts – the magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the transfiguration which focus on the external revelations of Jesus in the world. We’ll also spend time in the psalms and stories that help us explore God’s inner revelations in our lives.
Sunday, Jan 7 – The Epiphany of Jesus (transferred)
Penumbra – Gospel from the Edges
Preacher: Rev Michael Ellick
Sunday, Jan 14 – The Baptism of Jesus
Luminous Love and Revelation
Preacher: Rev. Steve Jerbi
Sunday, Jan 21 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Embracing the Shadow: Unmasking Our Hidden Depths
Preacher: Amy Roon
Sunday, Jan 28 – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
The Shadow’s Gift: Unveiling Hidden Potential
Preacher: Rev. Michael Ellick
Sunday, Feb 4 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Penumbra of Grace: Redeeming the Shadow
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Preacher: Rev Amy Roon
Sunday, Feb 11 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
Living in the Light of Penumbra: Integrating the Shadow
Preacher: Rev Michael Ellick
This Epiphany season UCUCC will once again be sharing star words.
The use of star words, also called “star gifts,” is a prayer practice connected to Epiphany and the new year that has been growing in popularity in Protestant churches for nearly a decade now. The idea is that a list of intention words, or guiding words, are written or printed on paper stars. You are encouraged to trust the word you have drawn and not replace the word – even words that might not resonate in the moment can grow over time. Take your word and place it somewhere you will see it regularly throughout the year. This creates a consistent reflection on how God has moved through, around, or in connection to that word.
Printed star words will be available on-site for the first couple weeks of January. If you are participating remotely, you can go to this online star word generator: https://perchance.org/starwords2022. If you have difficulty accessing these, you can reach out to the office, and we will get you a star word.
Sarah Are, writing for A Sanctified Art, shares this about star words:
There Are Several Theological Statements Being Made in This Tradition:
The Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus. Therefore, we too use all the resources we have available to us—including creative prayer practices and intention words for the new year—to move closer to Jesus.
- The Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus. Therefore, we too use all the resources we have available to us—including creative prayer practices and intention words for the new year—to move closer to Jesus.
- We trust that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us. Star words are one such lens that might provide us a way to look for God in our midst, both actively and in hindsight.
- We trust that it is often easy to miss God in our daily midst. Having an intention word to consider both in present days, as well as to reflect on at the end of the year, allows for us to see God in ways we may not have seen God before. This is the greatest gift.
- We know that the most common prayer practice for many involves speaking to God as opposed to silence or contemplation. We believe that star words invite a new prayer rhythm of reflection and review that can be a powerful new way to connect with God.
- By not looking or sorting through the star words at their selection, we practice the spiritual task of receiving. It is not we who are in control in this moment. Instead, we trust that God is present, and we let go of our desire to cultivate or control.
The word “penumbra” is derived from the Latin words “paene” meaning “almost” and “umbra” meaning “shadow.” In its literal sense, a penumbra is the partial shadow cast by an opaque object when illuminated by a distant light source. It is the region of space surrounding the umbra, or complete shadow, where light is only partially blocked. This creates a gradual transition from light to dark, producing a soft and diffused illumination. Penumbras shatter binary thinking creating a space where shadow and light play off each other to create a third expression.
The Liturgical Season
The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia,” meaning “manifestation” or “revelation.” This season celebrates the two natures of Jesus – fully human, fully divine – revealed to the world. It requires a sense of wonder and mystery and includes moments of miracles and theophany.
Traditional Epiphany readings include the visit of the magi, the baptism of Jesus, stories of exorcisms, healings, and teachings. Epiphany concludes with the story of transfiguration, which is recorded in all the synoptic gospels. The purpose of these texts – especially in Mark’s gospel – and this season is to reinforce the expressions of Christ’s divinity within his humanity.
Globally, Epiphany is often the season of gift giving. In Puerto Rico, children leave grass under their beds to feed the camels of the magi. In exchange, they receive gifts. In Brazil, Epiphany is the season of Carnival. In New Orleans, King Cakes are shared throughout Mardi Gras season.
There is an orthodox tradition of chalking doorposts with a blessing for the year. Recently, many churches have started sharing “Star Words” – as a way to hold an intention throughout the new year; UCUCC has done this the past 2 years.
Shadow Self and the Existential Theology of Paul Tillich
Penumbra’s metaphors create a multiplicity of possibilities. With the emphasis on shadows, this series looks at the way Carl Jung’s introduction of the shadow self influenced existential thinking and theology in the 20th Century. Drawing from Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, we can see how his flow of being acknowledges and eventually integrates the shadow self.
In Jungian thought the shadow self is that which is hidden from one’s consciousness. It includes negative behaviors, impulses, or aspects of our personality that are in conflict with our self-image. This shadow self is not inherently destructive and is an inevitable part of human existence. For Tillich, the flow of being begins with essence (inherent worth and value in alignment with the ground of being); existence which is expressed as estrangement (from God, from humanity and creation, from ourselves); and then movement to reunion with the ground of being/God expressed as essentialization.
The shadow self is both the source of personal suffering and personal growth. When we deny our full selves – both the shadow and the illuminated, the hidden and revealed – we experience a split within ourselves. For Tillich, this split is separation which is the state of sin. Doing the things we wish not to do (Romans 7:15); being indifferent to the suffering of the world; feeling separated from the source of being, from God’s love – these all cause suffering. Tillich refers to these as anxiety which is not merely a psychological condition but also an existential predicament inherent in the human condition. These manifest as Ontological Anxiety (fear of non-being, the dread of our own existence and the possibility of annihilation); Moral Anxiety (guilt and shame arising from the conflict between our ideals and our actions); and Existential Anxiety (the sense of isolation and meaninglessness in a cold and indifferent universe).
The shadow self is also the space for personal growth. When we have the courage to confront these anxieties, we experience deep transformation. Tillich outlines three types of courage: The Courage to Be One’s Self (accepting and embracing our true selves, what we might call our imago dei); Courage to Accept Destiny (acknowledging the uncertainty of life and still moving forward with purpose and determination); The Courage to Be a Part (recognizing our interconnectedness with others and the universe, fostering love, community and transcendence).
This Courage to Be is the place where these anxieties are confronted and how our shadow selves become integrated. The space of repentance is also the place of integration. Acknowledging our shadow self drives us into the arms of Christ. Accepting our shadow sides is a recognition of God’s grace. With our fully integrated selves we can recognize that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)
Working with the shadow self, we will see the edges of our own journey and identity and God’s work to integrate ourselves and lead to our transformation. Tillich calls this the time of kairos, where in God’s grace we confront our shadow selves. From here we find our authenticity and the importance of embracing our wholeness.
Penumbra requires the presence of light, darkness, and shadows. Biblical metaphors of light and darkness tend to assign values of good and evil (The people walking in darkness have seen a great light – Isaiah 9:2; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it – John 1:5). While ancient societies did not have the same modern overlays of racism and colorism, we cannot accept these metaphors without recognizing how they have been used to reinforce white supremacy culture. Even using “shadow” as the primary metaphor exists in tension with this reality. The liturgy will focus on the totality of God’s realm – honoring darkness, light, and shadow as all divine and holy.
While this series carries several themes – liturgical, Biblical, theological – penumbra helps us move toward the nuances of meaning, the complexity of interpretation and the shading that creates the revelation of the divine.