Feast of the Epiphany: Blessing the House

Image: The Wise Ones © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany, Years ABC: Matthew 2.1-12

In the rhythm of the liturgical year, the season of Christmas comes to an end with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning manifestation or appearance. In Western Christianity, we observe this day primarily as a commemoration of the wise men who journeyed to see Jesus. In the East, Epiphany is a major feast day that celebrates not only Christ’s manifestation to the world through his birth and to the magi in their visit but also the way in which he showed himself forth in his baptism and in his first recorded miracle, the changing of water to wine at the wedding at Cana.

In doing some reading about the Feast of the Epiphany recently, I’ve been intrigued by a custom that is often mentioned in connection with this day of celebration: the blessing and chalking of the house. Many versions of the ceremony that I’ve come across include these elements:

-The reciting of a blessing upon the house (or other dwelling) and those who inhabit it

-The blessing of a piece of chalk that is then used to write a formula above the entry of the house. The formula incorporates the current year with the initials of the wise men (whose names are not recorded in scripture but were given by tradition as Caspar [or Gaspar], Melchior, and Balthasar). This coming Epiphany, it would be written this way:

20 + C + M + B + 10

(Some folks note that “C M B” can also stand for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this dwelling.”)

-The sprinkling of the door with holy water

Although it seems to be an ancient practice, I haven’t found any explanation of the origin of the custom. I suspect that, like many rituals, it has several layers of meaning and that its origin has more than one source. Certainly it has much resonance with the visit of the wise men to the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the manner in which they blessed it with their presence and their gifts.

So I’ve been thinking about house blessings as Epiphany approaches, especially since Gary and I will soon be in search of a house of our own. We’re engaged to be married next spring, and I’m daily praying that God will lead us to a (spacious) abode that will welcome two adults, each of whom needs a studio at home (and a copious measure of personal space), and Gary’s teenaged son. (Did I mention we’re looking for something spacious?)

At the same time that I’m thinking of (and praying for) a physical dwelling that we will inhabit and bless, I also find myself imagining the coming year as a house—a space in time that is opening itself to all of us. How will we inhabit the coming year? How will we enter it with mindfulness and with intention? How will we move through the rooms of the coming months in a way that brings blessing to this world?

With these questions in mind, I offer this blessing for you.

The Year as a House: A Blessing

Think of the year
as a house:
door flung wide
in welcome,
threshold swept
and waiting,
a graced spaciousness
opening and offering itself
to you.

Let it be blessed
in every room.
Let it be hallowed
in every corner.
Let every nook
be a refuge
and every object
set to holy use.

Let it be here
that safety will rest.
Let it be here
that health will make its home.
Let it be here
that peace will show its face.
Let it be here
that love will find its way.

let the weary come
let the aching come
let the lost come
let the sorrowing come.

let them find their rest
and let them find their soothing
and let them find their place
and let them find their delight.

And may it be
in this house of a year
that the seasons will spin in beauty,
and may it be
in these turning days
that time will spiral with joy.
And may it be
that its rooms will fill
with ordinary grace
and light spill from every window
to welcome the stranger home.

—Jan Richardson

Wherever you make your home, may it be blessed, and may you enter this Epiphany and the coming year in peace.

[For other Epiphany reflections, please visit my previous post. If you’re working with the lection from John’s gospel for this Sunday (Christmas 2), please see this reflection.]

[To use the “Wise Ones” image, which is from my book In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. For all my artwork for the Feast of the Epiphany, please see this page. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

25 Responses to “Feast of the Epiphany: Blessing the House”

  1. Brenda Says:

    It is probably even better if you incorporate pi into the formula. Particularly if it is pumpkin pi.

  2. Janet Eggleston Says:

    Thank you for sharing the tradition of house blessing on Epiphany – I had not heard of it before. And I really appreciate the image of the new year as a house and your blessing for it – it fills me with warmth and hope! I occasionally have dreams about houses and have learned to interpret them as dreams about myself, my needs, and my life’s direction – haven’t had one recently, though. Right now I am sitting in the living room of my second home – the place where I hope to retire in a few years – a place where I experience a sense of peace and ‘at-homeness’ that is often lacking in the parsonage I occupy most of the time.
    Congratulations on your engagement, and happy house hunting – may you find just the right spacious house for the three of you!

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thanks so much, Janet! I’m grateful for your words and appreciate your good wishes for our house hunting—should be quite the adventure. How lovely that you have a space that offers you a sense of “at-homeness”—that’s a wondrous thing. Many blessings to you.

  3. Carolyn Sargent Says:

    The older I get, the more it can surprise me that come this time of year, I prepare to welcome the new year…seems not to matter what heights or dips the closing year has taken ~ I hope I never lose that! To that end, as 2010 rolls in, I begin fortified with a blessing worth carrying along as these next/new days unfold. ~ As ones on the edge of downsizing…but not yet, the real estate market says….I’m thinkin’ it will serve us well to consider 2010 itself as our home, rather than hoping against hope for just the right circumstances and space. Hm…’being where we are’ just might allow us to enter the moments with peace and joy, offering us a happy new-year-house. ~ Thanks for helping me re-focus!

  4. Andrea Westkamp Says:

    Thanks for the image of this new year as a house – sacred space – in which we can live and move and have our being!

  5. claire Says:

    Everything is precious about this post. Thank you.

  6. phyllis thomas Says:

    Jan, thank you once again for a timely post. I’m especially responsive to this blessing of the house where I live. I find a fresh perspective to the beginning of the year! And may you be directed to just the right space for your and your new family. :)

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Many kind thanks, Phyllis! I’m grateful for your good thoughts and prayers as we prepare to look for a home that will hold and encompass us well. Many blessings upon your year, your home, and your splendid self!

  7. thymekeeper Says:

    A lovely, thymely post, offering once again blessing upon blessing. Wishing the same for you and yours in this year of home, marriage, and life full of life!

  8. Tess Says:

    Jan, this is so wonderfully timely and speaks to me so deeply. I am as we speak writing a post about my word for 2010, “hospitality”, and this is such a helpful practice. I will be marking the feast of the Epiphany with a house blessing as you suggest. Wonderful.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Tess, it’s lovely to hear from you—many kind thanks. Your blog post about hospitality is wonderful (and your blog itself is such a rich gift). Thanks so much for linking to The Painted Prayerbook and for your support. I hope you’ve had a wondrous Epiphany and that your year will be blessed with hospitality given and received. Peace and gratitude to you.

  9. Lee Carlile Says:

    Dear Jan,

    Your thoughts on the lectionary are among those to which I reach first while working on a sermon (I’m running late this week!) Thank you for your wonderful insight and your beautiful art.

    But, thank you, especially for the blessing on this post. I plan to read it (with proper credit, of course) as the benediction for my congregation at the end of tomorrow’s service.

    What a blessing you are to so many of us!

  10. girlwhocriedepiphany Says:

    This year as a house… So perfect. We moved into our house in 2008, but with the birth of our first child 10 weeks ago it is just now truly becoming a HOME.

    As for the light you shed on the Epiphany – thank you. I throw the word around with wild abandon, but you have helped give the day itself so much more depth.

    I will carry your prayer in my heart.


    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thank you, Marisa! Much gratitude to you for your visit and your words. Wow, what a wonder to be entering a new year and celebrating Epiphany with a 10-week-old child. I wish you many, many blessings as you continue to make your home together.

      Love the name of your blog! Thank you for the thoughtfulness you bring to it.

  11. Johnnie E. Ross + Says:

    This is a wonderful resource and I was wondering if I might use it in my parish as long as I acknowledge that the material is the original work of and is copyrighted by Jan L. Richardson? Just a question… thanks so much!

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Many thanks, Johnnie. Yes, I’d be delighted for you to use this in your parish as you’ve indicated—that would be lovely. If you’d be game to include a link to this blog, that would be great. Thank you for your words, and a blessed Epiphany to you and your parish!

  12. Cathleen Cody Lauer Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. Is that image of the wise ones for sale?

  13. Maria Carbonetti Says:

    Dear Jan,
    You poetry speaks to me so deeply, I follow your writings and your art, and the book Circle of Grace is at my bedside table. These wishpered drops of wisdom and beauty are often so timely appropiate that I always think in the notion of epiphany when reading. I try to share among my loveones and in my blog, where I donot write myself (English is my second language!) but I share writings that I believe God offers to me. Art and spirituatity and dance and spirituality fill my contemplative practices, your poems have opened door to creativity and have been danced as well :)
    I am most grateful and may all these blessings come to you multiply beyond measure.

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