Tuesday, January 8, 2013

After the Epiphany, Then What?

Have you ever experienced a sudden revelation?   In a flash, an answer or an insight comes to you that makes all the difference and sets you off on a new path of discovery, or a new way of being.  You feel as if you have just received the answer to something that has been troubling or puzzling you.  Now you can move forward!

Today we pay homage to those moments of sudden insight.  It is after all Epiphany Sunday.  Today, January 6th, is the day some Christian traditions celebrate and have been celebrating for over 2000 years.  The Epiphany.  What they are focused on is the time told of in the Gospel of Matthew when non-Jews recognized the significance of the baby Jesus... 

Perhaps you know the story, which is told only in the Gospel of Matthew.  Wise men, known as “the magi”, come from the east following a star.  On their journey they stop to ask the ruler of the region (that would be the evil King Herod) where the star had led them, what he knows about it.  He knows nothing, but suspecting something must be amiss, he asks them to come back and tell them what they find.      

Some Biblical scholars are sure that Matthew’s point in telling this story is to say that not only did the WISE men have the skill to follow a star, but even though they were not Hebrew, when they found what the star led them to, they had an epiphany!  The star they had been following shown down on a future king.   They had been wise enough to follow the star to where it led.  Yet, they were ignorant of Jewish prophecy.  But even they could see why it was important to the whole world not to go back and tell King Herod that this child had been born.    

So, after they left their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they quickly moved on…   

It was later legends that would make these wise men out to also be kings, maybe as a way to explain why wandering astrologers would have such precious gifts as gold, frankincense, and myrrh packed away in their side saddles.
It doesn’t matter how wise they were, or if they were of royal lineage.  The point that Matthew seems to have been making, stands.  They weren’t Jews.  Yet, when they got to where the star had been leading them, they had an “a-ha” moment.  Everything about their training as magi had enabled them to follow an unusually bright star, but seeing, really seeing what the star illuminated was an epiphany!  They had a sudden flash of insight that they hadn’t been trained for, hadn’t anticipated. 

OH, MY GOD, they exclaimed!   No wonder King Herod acted so funny!

Now, let me assure you that even though I studied the Bible as a child, then in a very secular state university, then in divinity school and am now over ten years a religious professional…. I don’t call myself a Christian.  I don’t even usually think of myself as a theist.  I am not any longer uncomfortable with those terms.  I just don’t use them to describe myself. 

So, the usual Christian interpretation that the wise men suddenly recognized that the baby they found in a manger was to be the savior of the world or the king of the jews isn’t what I hear in this story…or why I bring it to you, this day…

What I hear, what I hope you hear, is that these trained, experienced wise men found something that wasn’t necessarily what they were looking for.  Yet, they felt a sudden recognition.  And they knew that the “revelation” they experienced could be dangerous.  They changed course…

Like many people I know…I have had my moments, too…when I have exclaimed OH, MY GOD! 

Oh my God, it all makes sense now!  I see.  I get it!

Maybe you know the famous tale about Archimedes, the classical mathematician who shouted “Eureka” when he suddenly discovered how to estimate the volume of a given mass.  He also had a feeling of sudden insight, like the wise men must have had.  The answer to a vexing mathematical problem had come him in a flash!  It was an epiphany.

Holy Cow!

Here finally was the sudden revelation…the answer to a nagging problem.  Was it from the gods? 

Does it matter?    

Those astrologers from the east where moving along their normal path of discovery, like we all do.  Archimedes and countless other scientists and all manner of ordinary folk are moving along their normal paths every day, day in and day out, like we all do. 

Maybe some are following a fascinatingly bright star.  Maybe others are just turning on the tap water.  Maybe some are at the beach watching the sun rise. 

Then suddenly, in a flash of insight, the key to much greater understanding is plopped at our feet. 

Do all epiphanies come from God?  Does “the universe” suddenly reveal a mathematical formula?  Or was it there all along for a trained and searching mathematician to see? 

Maybe?  Maybe not.

Does it really matter where it comes from? 

It seems to me that what does matter is that suddenly something makes sense in a way that something has not made sense before.

This flash of insight can change everything…about our normal course of affairs…

It doesn’t matter if the flash of insight is about something that has been puzzling the mind, or tickling the soul.  When an answer,  …a kind of “two plus two”, instantly dawns on us, when we are “given” an insight that propels us forward in either solving a problem or in gaining a much deeper perspective concerning some conundrum, or maybe we suddenly have the ability to hold a disturbing paradox in a life-giving balance….maybe we do shout Eureka, or Oh, My God, or …we might say “No DUH!, as I often do wanting to deny how overwhelmed I am with my previous state of ignorance, ….of course I knew that all along!


Suddenly what didn’t connect does.  What didn’t make any sense does.  What wasn’t meaningful, what was painful, difficult, made us feel remote from any truth, suddenly we are full of purpose, we have been brought a message that it’s all going to be alright, or we have been suddenly been made privy to a great secret that calls us in close to the center of existence…  when we have been living so far outside the core…now in a flash we are in…


In a flash we are close, very close to the truth, to a truth that REALLY matters! 

We have all had these moments.  Remember the solution to a math problem you finally got?  Remember the significance of some spiritual truth that finally made your pain make some sense? 

We have these moments when we get it, really get it. 

Then what?

In religion, in stories and legends trying again and again to teach us about living with deep purpose, living with deep security in this chaotic universe, you find encounters with the divine described as epiphanies...  Suddenly God, or what we call god, appears.  Suddenly God is responsible for revealing the meaning of life, or if not the meaning, then delivering a sudden feeling of security…everything is ultimately going to be alright…we can have faith again that our lives make some sense, have some purpose, that someone or something is in charge…is holding us still…

Maybe we are lonely, or sad, or poor in spirit…or maybe we don’t even know we are, yet somehow suddenly we are with the companion that never leaves our side, we see that our long lost love ones will be with us again, we feel suddenly rich…with insight and safety…

Maybe we want to keep our particular epiphany to ourselves, hide it from those who would destroy it, or belittle it.  Maybe we want to shout it from the roof tops.

Maybe we want to make our sudden flash of knowing what we did not know a TRUTH for everybody.

Maybe we want to pretend we don’t know what we do now know.

These moments of deep insight, of the purpose of it all revealed, come to us.  Part of the feeling we have when we know now, what we did not know before, is that we must not go back to the way things were.  It would be dangerous to go back knowing what we know now…just as dangerous as it feels to go forward.

What made the wise men wise?  Not their training as magi.  Not their following a bright star.  Not their deciding not to return to King Herod.

What made them wise was their ability to see what the light pointed to, what it shone over, then to move on in a different way from the way they had come.

Epiphanies always include that invitation that we can respond to if we choose.  We can leap into the new, move from what was to what will be.  There is risk either way, whether we go back to the way things were, or go forward into the new.

Experiencing an epiphany can change the course of your life.  If you let it.

Paying attention to revelation is not restricted to wise men traveling from the east.  Epiphanies are not frozen in grand cathedrals.  The insight, the answer, the security revealed to you, may not fit what has been guiding you.   But it can guide you now, if you let it.
Sometimes you can only see, or hear, or taste, or feel, a sudden revelations’ power to change your life after days, weeks, years, decades of preparation so that you stand in the right place at the right time able to recognize the answer when you see it.  To know the flash of insight for what it is, a key that unlocks the answer to whatever the riddle is for you….that causes you to exclaim OH MY GOD….

An epiphany makes one “wise” in a way one wasn’t before…

What you do then is up to you.