May we see clearly, with a flash of understanding
Rev. Candace McKibben
One of the unexpected joys of still sorting through the belongings of my dearly
departed parents is finding something written in their handwriting. I discovered
a birthday card from my father signed “Dear Old Dad,” and recipes from my
mother she carefully wrote on small index cards.
One of the treasures I found was a small yellow notepad that my mother kept
in her room at Westminster Oaks documenting what it felt like to downsize
from the house she and my father called home for over 60 years to a single
room and bath. She was writing a letter to her older sister and explained that
she was having an “epiphany” every day.
Epiphany, as my mother used it, is not a common word, but it is a rich word.
The word literally means “showing, appearance, or manifestation,” and
describes a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a
new or very clear way.
As a proper noun, Epiphany is a Christian festival held in Western Christianity
on the Sunday closest to Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas, to commemorate
the coming of the Magi from the east to visit the Christ Child.
The baptism of Jesus and the miracle at the wedding in Cana are also
celebrated in Western Christianity, while the Eastern Church only
commemorates Jesus’ baptism on Epiphany, which is believed to be the
original celebration, and occurs on Jan. 19.
Christians recount these events in the life of Jesus as epiphanies that show or
reveal the breadth of his appeal and identification with all people.
Though I doubt we can generate an epiphany at will, I have been pondering
what sets up the occasion for an epiphany. As we have come to the end of
2020 and are entering a much-anticipated new year, it seems we are likely to
see or understand something in a new or very clear way if we are attentive,
reflective, and open.
Many of us were attentive to the recent great conjunction of the planets
Jupiter and Saturn that graced the night sky for days. I loved imaging that
across the world people were outdoors with their binoculars or telescopes, if
available, or naked eye if not, seeing the planets as close as they have been
in 400 years and for the first time in 800 years, so close at night when they are
By not only looking at this spectacular planetary event, but by reflecting on its
meaning, our hearts are more open to the wisdom, the “aha moment,” that it
has the potential to bring. For me, I felt a deep connection with the universe
realizing that my grown children and their children along with people the world
over, were all contemplating the same beauty.
The planetary conjunction was also brightest on the evening of the day that
one of my beloved church members died. In an email to alert my congregation
of her passing, I shared: “Last night, her daughters spoke of their sweet
daddy, greeting their momma after fourteen years gone from us with what
they called his ‘big goofy smile.’” Maybe the convergence of two planets will
not be the only brightness in the heavens this evening.”
Most epiphanies or flashes of understanding do not come from rare events
like we recently witnessed in the night sky, but from small, everyday
occurrences or experiences.
The kindness of a stranger, a poignant paragraph in a book, the hug of a
child, hauntingly beautiful music, the serenity of nature, the opportunity to help
someone, are but a few ways we may experience an epiphany. But only if we
are paying attention, willing to contemplate our lives, and remaining open to
the meaning we might glean.
My favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner, wrote years ago words that have
always felt like an epiphany to me. I use them often in funeral programs as an
encouragement to those grieving, and in weddings to those witnesses
contemplating their own commitments.
He says: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the
boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch,
taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last
analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
It makes my heart glad that my mother remained open to life well into old age
and was sharing with her older sister the epiphanies she was experiencing.
My prayer is that after such a painful, sad, and difficult year, we all will enter
2021 with the goal of listening to our lives and gaining the clarity we need to
live well, not only for ourselves but for each other.
The Rev. Candace McKibben is an ordained minister and pastor of