Thursday, January 03, 2013

Seeing Epiphany

A new leg is about to be run, the evening of 5 January being the hand-over box between Christmas and Epiphany. I have written about Epiphany – short poems, longer reflections – in past years, with a link on the sidebar to the right or via ‘Worship’ on the page menu along the top of this blog.

An epiphany can be described as a moment of revelation, of what was unclear coming into sharp(er) focus. I suggest that the reason we need an epiphany of God with us is not because God is so distant, but because God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

When I kiss my wife, my children, my parents, my friends, there is a moment when they become too close to see. A kiss is an act of trust – and when we have a crisis of trust, those who mean to kiss bump noses instead. (That is why betrayal by a kiss is so charged.) When we kiss in greeting, we may close our eyes momentarily, as a reflex action, because the image is out of focus. When we kiss more intimately, we may close our eyes intentionally because we are abandoning ourselves to trust, and that trust is pleasurable. But after the kiss, we step back, and then we can study our friend or beloved, look into their eyes and acknowledge them as precious gift.

God is so close as to be hidden from us, even as we are, for the most part, hidden from ourselves. Where is God in our joy? Where is God in our grief? Where is God in the mundane routines of our lives?

In a previous Epiphany, I observed that in the Bible, those who have an epiphany of God are either searching (the Magi, Simeon, Anna, all in stories associated with Epiphany) or are running away (Jacob, Moses, Jonah; perhaps Paul on the road to Damascus is searching and running away at the same time). Where is God in our hiding from God, in our running from God, in our habitual attempts to assert independence from God which are called sin?

The Season of Epiphany is an annual invitation to step back and so allow God to come into focus, to learn how to see God – and then to step forward again, in trust.

The classic image of Epiphany is of the Magi following the bright star (possibly an alignment of planets), trying to interpret its significance. It is perhaps a mistake to believe that they travelled (only) by night, but they would have used darkness to navigate their route. And their attempts – which are honoured by God – have unintended consequences of darkness for people they had never met.

The particular darkness in our hearts conceals/contains a particular revelation of God, and monastic tradition advises that we do not seek to be rid of our besetting sins until we have first learnt from them. Or, indeed, perhaps those sins against us we are called to forgive, and can let go of fully only once we have experienced an epiphany of God in those places.

Jacob is a sleight-of-hand deceiver, which is to long after certainty. And God is in that very place, meeting him first in two places at once (how can he appear to be at both the top and the bottom of the ladder simultaneously?) and later as a slippery, cheating wrestler, so that, having experienced his epiphany Jacob is set free to trust and to be trusting – to the extent that even when Jacob is himself deceived, God’s faithfulness is made manifest.

Moses is tormented by the need to be significant. He has gone from being a tall tree to being a thorn bush, desert scrub, condemned by the gods to be endlessly burnt but never consumed, in punishment for killing one of their slaves. And God is there, so that having experienced his epiphany Moses is set free to be a man known as the friend of God – not striven for, just free to allow God to come into focus.

Jonah is swallowed-up by purity, acutely aware that he is surrounded by impure people. And God is in that place, so that when he has experienced his epiphany Jonah is set free from anally-retentive obsession into a dirty dedication to God that embraces a Jew in the mess of the belly of a big fish – seaweed and vomit – and Gentiles in the mess of sackcloth and ashes.

Like Cain before him, Paul’s murderous anger betrays his fear of being rejected by God. And God is in that very place, so that having experienced an epiphany of Christ, Paul is set free into a radical inclusivity: Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, all are welcomed by God.

As we step from 2012 into 2013, with the cultural pressure to detoxify, we also step from Christmas into Epiphany. I wonder what epiphany awaits us, not to purge but to transform, not to make us more acceptable to God but to enable us to see the One who has already met us – in Christmas – with a kiss...?

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