Thoughts at Epiphany
I’ve always loved the word “epiphany.” It means “revealing” or “manifestation.” An epiphany is “the revelatory manifestation of the divine.” Epiphany is also a word that sounds like what it means. It sounds like a burst — a shooting star, a sparkler on the 4th or a flash of lightning in a summer thunderstorm.
Epiphany is also a day, January 6. It marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. The Scripture story for Epiphany is the wise men coming to worship the newborn king at the manger. So if you have a manger scene with moveable pieces (as we do) the wise guys should be arriving about now. Being Gentiles and foreigners, they had further to come than the shepherds.
Epiphanies are specific moments of revelation, another sort of unusual theological word. On the topic of revelation, Frederick Buechner writes, helpfully, “There are two different ways of describing how you came to know something. One way is to say you found it out. The other way is to say it occurred to you . . . It occurred to you as distinct from you found out suggests knowledge given as distinct from knowledge earned . . . Revelation means knowledge as grace.” Christianity is a revealed religion. We didn’t figure this stuff out for ourselves.
So an epiphany is a moment of revelation, a moment when something is revealed to us.
And it may be to and for you alone. In other words, you might be watching a play or reading a book or talking with a friend and hear something that speaks to you, even takes hold of you. You may not, in the moment, know why. A word or a phrase jumps out at you, seemingly louder or sweeter than all the others. No one else may notice.
I had an experience like this the other day. I was reading, as noted in a previous blogpost, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. I came upon the following sentence:
“The Benedictine example is a sign of hope but also a warning: no matter what a Christian’s circumstances, he cannot live faithfully if God is only a part of his life, bracketed away from the rest. In the end, either Christ is at the center of our lives, or the Self and all its idolatries are. There is no middle ground. With His help, we can piece together the fragments of our lives and order them around Him, but it will not be easy, and we can’t do it alone.” (Italics added)
This was not a brand new thought. It sounds very Bonhoeffer-like. And I’ve probably said something similar in sermons over the years.
And yet, in the moment, it hit me hard. For some time, I’ve been trying to sort out what is the center of life when one isn’t working full-time, when one is “retired.” There’s a tendency to look for some other consuming or defining passion. “Yes, now I’m into (fill-in-the-blank).” So suddenly life is all about travel or rock climbing or painting or one or another cause or program that you care about.
I kept asking myself, what would that new commanding passion be now, be for me? I like outdoors stuff and sports like cycling, kayaking, hiking, skiing and so on, but you can’t really organize your life around that. Or maybe some people can, but I couldn’t.
Dreher’s words came to me as an epiphanic reminder: working or retired, Christ is the center. As Paul says in Colossians, “He (Christ Jesus) himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (1:17)
When asked about making ethical choices or decisions, Augustine once remarked, “Love God and do as you please.” Which unpacked is a little more complex than it sounds. He meant put God first and let this first and primary love order all else, all that we please to do.
In a somewhat similar vein, I heard an answer to my retirement query: make Christ your center, find your center in him, and all other things will find their place. It is, as I said, not a new thought. And yet it struck me with a force that was new and, well, illuminating — like an epiphany.
[Closing note: I’m enjoying this new blog format and having the space to write and share thoughts. Special thanks to the growing number of you who have signed up to “Follow” these posts. And another big thank you to those who “share” these posts through their own social media accounts and networks. This all helps as I try to establish the new site and what I’m doing here.]