Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany Insights

Today is the Feast Day of the Epiphany, when we celebrate the ways in which the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus is revealed early in the Christ story. More specifically, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the wise men from the East to see and bring gifts to the baby Jesus.

Many of us unChristmas the house the day after Christmas, but the Christmas season extends well beyond December 25.  In fact, we could celebrate not just 12 days of Christmas, but 40 days, until we get to Candlemas on February 2.  I like a season that extends through the colder, darker part of the year.

But back to Epiphany.  The word epiphany in literary circles has come to mean a sudden insight (that's the most simplistic definition).  I spent the early hours of Epiphany morning listening to a discussion with Maria Popova--what an interesting human. Here's a nugget of insight from her:

"Cynicism is the sewage of the soul.   . . . Hope is the counterpoint; intelligent hope is the counterpoint.  Hope with critical thinking is the only antidote to cynicism, and one we very much need."  Maria Popova on NPR's On Point (the episode is here).

What keeps her optimistic?  Her wide range of reading, I suspect.  Popova talks about how she has discovered many writers that she loves by a stray footnote that sent her on a search.

Yes, I remember those days.

She mentioned Ursula K. Le Guin's wonderful book, The Wave in the Mind.  When I went to Popova's post that lists 16 writers and their inspirations for better resolutions for the new year, I saw a picture of the book.  I thought, that looks familiar--I wonder if I already own it.  Sure enough, there it was on my shelf.

Unlike other books on my shelf by Le Guin, this one is unmarked, which makes me think I haven't read it yet.  Amazon tells me that I bought it February 19, 2004.  So I plan to dive right in.

And then I thought, how interesting--once I discovered books I wanted to read by coming across footnotes and references.  Now it's primarily by reading other people's enthusiastic opinions in blog posts or Facebook updates.

And once I went to the library to get the books I wanted.  How strange that they are now on my shelf.  And of course, many articles that people reference I can read online, in the wee, small hours of the morning, when physical libraries are closed.

I've been thinking about epiphanies--we think of them as coming suddenly, but the story of the wise men reminds us that they come as a result of studying the text, whether it be sky or books or cultural wisdom or fellow humans, for years and decades.  Those of us who have yet to see our master works make their way in the world can draw comfort from that.  Those of us who still feel that we are still waiting for our epiphanies may find inspiration in the vision of the wise men, studying the stars for signs and portents.

Today gives us an opportunity to take a bit more time to savor the season before we let go of Christmas entirely.  Have one last cookie or cup of Christmas tea.  Think about how you will continue to infuse sweetness into your post-holiday life.  Think about the twinkly lights and the star that is so central to the Christian Christmas story.  How can you get more light into your life?  What star waits for you to notice and to follow its guidance?  Think about the gifts of the wise men.  What gifts do you need?  What gifts does the world need from you?

Happy Epiphany!  May it be a year of light and a distant star that brings us to Good News.

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