I love words, as any writer should, and "epiphany" is a favorite word of mine.
In a Christian sense, it names a great January liturgical feast, namely the Scripture story about three mysterious men bearing gifts, appearing from the East, looking for the baby Jesus to worship him. It arrives on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and it culminates our celebration.
The church uses it as the occasion to remind us that Christ came for all, not just for his fellow Jews, but for the gentiles, and by extension all of us throughout history. It was an epiphany, an awakening, for all humankind.
"Epiphany" in its secular, dictionary definition, complements the religious meaning, and always seems like a thrilling word. Here’s one definition: A sudden realization about the nature or meaning of something.
To realize the meaning of something — my life, my gifts, an illness, a death, an ordinary day — that’s huge. It’s a delicious word, this revelation about the very nature of something.
We celebrate the feast of Epiphany Jan. 6, and whether you’ve already experienced it as you read this matters little. "Epiphany" is a good reminder, a good word, a good experience to carry us through January and into the new year.
How many epiphanies do we really experience in life? There are times in life when we feel we know quite a bit and aren’t necessarily open to the world-shattering nature of epiphany. This certainty strikes different people at different times. The late teenage years affect some that way. We’ve got it all figured out, until we start college and all the new information blows away all our certainty. I’ve known others who reach this know-it-all stage in later life.
"I’ve seen that." "I know all about that." "I’ve been there once, and I don’t need to go again."
I’ve known a few older folks who simply aren’t looking for any more epiphanies. Been there, done that. Ho hum.
All of us are susceptible, at any age, to getting in a rut and not keeping our eyes open to the epiphany that may surprise us around the next corner. All of us can be reluctant, and sometimes with reason, to saddle up our camels and follow some distant star. I mean, really, isn’t that a little romantic, a little quixotic? It sounds risky, and besides I know all about that already.
January brings with it a cascade of New Year’s resolutions, including "I’m going to lose 10 pounds," "I will start exercising," "I will remember to call my grandmother more often," "I will never leave the house with my bed unmade" … yada, yada, yada.
How about just resolving to keep our eyes open for the next epiphany God sends? Do you think those storied Magi were expecting to find a poor baby at the end of their journey? What an epiphany for them, the meaning of which they probably spent the rest of their lives trying to figure out. Don’t "expect," just pay attention.
Franciscan Father Richard Rohr tells about an epiphany the great St. Francis of Assisi had. Like many saints, Francis was a party animal as a youth. Perhaps he thought he knew it all.
"One night, he left the party and looked up at the stars above Assisi," writes Father Rohr. "He stood there for a long, long time. He was truly in awe of what he saw. He said, ‘If these are the creatures, what must the Creator be like?’"
Let me live this year awakening each day to ask God for the courage to be open to continuing revelation, epiphanies great and small that God offers in my life.
Caldarola is a columnist for Catholic News Service.