Epiphany Chalk above Cracked Windows

by The Rev. Paul McLain


On the day before Epiphany, a parishioner sent our clergy team an email sharing the tradition of Epiphany chalk. It is a centuries-old practice in some communities to bless chalk on Epiphany so that people may use it to bless their homes. The chalking is done above the lintel of doorways and looks like a mathematical formula:


20 + C + M + B + 21


20 at the beginning and 21 at the end represent the current year, 2021. The letters in the middle have two meanings. In one, they are an abbreviation for the Latin phrase, “Christus mansionem bendicat,” or in English, “Christ bless this house.” The second meaning is “Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar,” the traditional names for the Magi who followed the star and brought gifts to the infant Jesus. The “+” signs between the numbers and letters represent the cross. The blessing prayer includes a petition for the health and protection of body and soul for all who dwell in or visit our home.


Her email included a photo of the chalk inscription over a couple of beautiful wooden doors with glass windows. That photo is now a sharp contrast with the television images of the cracked windows in the hallowed wooden doors of the Capitol we saw the afternoon of Epiphany. I’m still haunted by those images.


And the jarring scene of the cracked windows is in sharp contrast to the way chalk was used throughout 2020. Adults and children wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalks of hospitals with the words, ‘We love our heroes!’ or simply ‘Thank you!’ to our healthcare and essential workers. Chalk was used for messages not of hate, but love.


The image I want to take with me from Epiphany 2021 is that of Congressman Andy Kim, who stayed at the Capitol throughout the night until the next morning, down on his knees, quietly cleaning up and bagging pieces of broken glass and debris from the riot. He did not do it for attention. When asked why he did it, Congressman Kim said, “When you see something you love that’s broken, you want to fix it. I love the Capitol. I’m honored to be here. This building is extraordinary, and the rotunda in particular is just awe-inspiring. How many countless generations have been inspired in this room? It really broke my heart, and I just felt compelled to do something. What else could I do?”


In his own quiet way, Congressman Kim did his part to repair the breach of cracked windows in our nation, and inscribe above them the Epiphany chalk of love. What else can we do?

17 thoughts on “Epiphany Chalk above Cracked Windows”

  1. Oh Paul, that congressman’s example of servant leadership brought me to tears the first time I heard it, and again today in your column. Beautifully written and can I borrow a stick of chalk?

    1. Absolutely, Jill! We need as many sticks of chalk as we can muster these days.
      Thanks for your response. I’m glad the column brought back to you the beautiful image of Congressman Kim picking up the pieces.

      Epiphany Blessings,

    1. You’re welcome, Nancy. Glad they were inspiring to you. Hope and pray for healing in many ways during the rest of 2021. Epiphany Blessings, Paul

    1. Thanks, Linda. It was great to be with you and the peer group yesterday. Hope and pray for healing in so many ways during the rest of 2021. Epiphany Blessings, Paul

    1. You’re very welcome, Kim. Hope and pray for healing in so many ways during the rest of 2021.
      Epiphany Blessings,

  2. Thank you, Paul, for this message. You have given me much to ponder and meditate on in the coming days. May you be blessed for helping us to heal the breach in our nation.

    1. You’re very welcome, Sherry. Hope and pray for healing in so many ways during the rest of 2021.
      Epiphany Blessings,

  3. Paul, I just returned from visiting with a friend at Crosstown. We began talking about the events at the Capitol, and I couldn’t find the words to give us both some comfort. When I came home, I read this. Just what I was looking for! I’ve passed it on to her. Thank you for your message of hope.

    1. You’re welcome, David. Glad it was meaningful to you. Bless you as well and I hope to see you soon in and around your office. Paul

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