We are now in the midst of the season that the church calls Epiphany… which is enough of a “churchy” word that you might stop reading if you aren’t already a “church geek.” But don’t… because epiphany is an intriguing and useful word, with its Greek and Latin origins, meaning “to make manifest, to display, to come suddenly into view”; and it becomes even more interesting when you discover that the basic root of the word (in Proto-Indo-European) means “to shine.”
Thus, Epiphany is the season to explore how the world can suddenly shine with glory, with radiance, when you recognize that surface appearances never tell the whole story, that even the most commonplace of things or events have the potential to explode with light, with wonder, so as to stop you in your tracks, to take your breath away… if you have eyes to see.
Our poets are quick to catch on to this possibility of shining light… of a holy presence in the most ordinary moment. Gerard Manley Hopkins says,
The world is charged with grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like the shining of shook foil….
Or Sylvia Plath declares in one of my favourite poems, “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” —
On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain-
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall
Without ceremony, or portent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
By bestowing largesse, honour
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical
Yet politic, ignorant
Of whatever angel any choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur.
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance
Miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.
It’s the sheer ordinariness of those moments that catch my attention. There you are, wandering in the rain, or in the kitchen, barely paying attention, and “BAM!”… the light shines, flares; the angel appears; your eyelids are hauled up — and you experience the very holiness of life. Now, Sylvia Plath wasn’t much of a “believer,” so she might have raised her eyebrows when I start talking about “the omnipresence of God” – but as a fervent doubter she knows that angels can appear suddenly, out of nowhere, and thus “hallow an interval otherwise inconsequent.” She even suggests that this might be a moment of love.
So this Epiphany,… or more prosaically, in these early weeks of the New Year… walk with alertness, on the lookout for “shining moments” in the ordinary everyday — a black rook in rainy weather, table or chair in your warm kitchen, a child’s sudden smile, an intense silence, a heart-familiar tune, a surprising act of kindness, a solitary heron in flight, waves sweeping the sand, the hush of prayer, a loving hand on your cheek…. moments when the Spirit becomes manifest, comes suddenly into view; moments for which you give such thanks (when you catch your breath); moments that shape a life.
So, happy Epiphany!!