Epiphanies for Epiphany

January 6, 2018 at 8:36 AM 1 comment

January 6th is Epiphany, the day the Wise Men arrived at the stable to see the baby Jesus. Or so we are told. We only have trouble believing such things if we take them literally instead of metaphorically.  Let’s give our literal left brains a break today to stop arguing if things really happened, and ask only whether or not they are true. I heard Jesuit priest and Zen Roshi Robert Kennedy make this distinction, and I found it brilliant.

Wise men and women have suffered mightily over the centuries to get up close to the truth. Three wise scholars riding camels and following a star may well have travelled uncomfortably and far to find their truth.

T.S. Eliot wrote The Journey of the Magi,  a poem you probably read.  He tells of the hardships of the journey and ends the poem with these lines: “Were we led all that way for birth or death? There was a Birth, certainly, we had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death, but I had thought they were different; this birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our Death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.”

They were no longer at ease, these wise men, in “the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, the silken girls bringing sherbet.” They had seen something, learned something, had an epiphany.

Henry Van Dyke wrote The Story of the Other Wise Man. You have probably read or heard that story, as well. He imagines that the three wise men went, saw, and then returned home to their palaces. But the fourth wise man, who was supposed to rendezvous with the original three missed the (camel) train and had to journey by himself. He started out with three precious jewels and on his way ended up giving each of the jewels to someone who very desperately needed  what that jewel could provide. It is a story often called “the story of the true meaning of Christmas.” The fourth wise man never returned to his palace.

Two very different writers explore the content of Epiphany. Wise people encounter something marvelous, mysterious, magnificent. God? Truth? Love? Meaning? Who can say? But Eliot and Van Dyke agree, to quote the title of the famous Thomas Wolfe book: YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN.

And this, it seems to me is what an epiphany truly is. We see or learn or dream or conceptualize something which changes us. This can be a religious encounter, a spiritual awareness, a near-death experience, a trauma, a depression, an illness, a car accident, the birth of a child, the magnificence of a sunset, the somber dignity of a death . . .something shakes us and remakes us and we are not the same.

T.S. Eliot says it feels like a death. Thomas Merton (and many others) would say it is the death of the false self. Our persona slips, our mask falls off, we are exposed — even if just to ourselves –as less than we had appeared and yet more than we have any right to imagine. When the paint gets scraped off, the strength of the wood underneath becomes obvious.

I am wishing you the courage for the journey that is ahead. I am wishing you company along the way. I am hoping we can be company for each other as we dive ever deeper. Perhaps we can swim with a dolphin or two?

Enjoy Epiphany today. Think back to all the epiphanies you have already had — not literally, but emotionally, soulfully. This is not a new journey, but a continuation of the journey of our lives. Our goal is to make the trip with eyes wide open, minds alert, hearts ever expanding, hands willing to get dirty, and feet willing to get blistered. Onward, my friends, though these strange times. Yesterday, in the Raleigh New Observer, a distinguished law professor from UNC wrote, “In the age of Trump, we either resist or collude. It’s the new ‘American Tune.'” It might be the new American Tune, but I think it has always been the haunting melody of those few among us, wise women and men, willing to search and seek and suffer to discover our own truth.

Love to you each, Susan

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What Are You Waiting For? The Real YOU? January 13, 1911

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Marsha  |  January 6, 2018 at 1:33 PM

    Thank you, Susan, for encouraging all of us on this mysterious path called life. Keep sharing your wisdom.

    Reply

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