Twelve Drummers Drumming – Epiphany!

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

The Twelfth Day of Christmas – today.  Until it’s passed, I hang on to a holiday attitude (nip from the dwindling cookie box) and don’t take down our Christmas decorations.  This annual observance of January 6th is connected not to the song but to the great and wonderful meaning of this day in the Church calendar (okay – you got me – habit of being critical toward Church and its mistaking of ritual and authority for the reality of God among us…).

 The Three Searching Men

Beyond any institutional approval, the Epiphany is a grand human event well worth celebrating.  I say this with no apologies to non-Christian readers.  The core of the celebration isn’t limited to any one set of believers.  Or non-believers.  January 6th is assigned to the experience of three men who came into the presence of a great shining spirit that spoke to them so deeply that they could, at first, only think it was a great king – the pinnacle of worldly position.  But they then saw past the appearances – that must have been confusing.  They looked, they saw, they recognized.  They were opened up by looking upon a great loving presence.  They knew this true thing was beyond worldly trappings.

I’ll use the words ‘seeing’, ‘recognizing’ and ‘knowing’ as the experience of epiphany.   This heart-felt acknowledgment of something wonderful can happen to anyone, any time, any place.  The recognition may just last a moment, but the knowing doesn’t easily evaporate.


The legend of the Wise Men has survived.  It’s a very human story: the act of being drawn to look, then seeking and discovering and giving of oneself (riding camels for days, giving of one’s treasures).  Those men signify the human longing toward a calling.  They read signs, they had intuition, they went on a hunt.  Together.  (Wonderful to note how many great revelations aren’t solitary but in concert.)

They came upon what they believed was a great treasure – the reality of a spirit greater than any they had encountered before.  The child may have been the source of the power they sensed, but they also were in the presence of Mary and Joseph – two indomitable faithful souls who held together the shaky situation.  They found something full of energy and light and whatever else gives us life, hope, courage.

 I think of what they discovered as the bright magnetic core, the heart of love – given by those men and received back a thousand-fold as they gazed at the family..

And their epiphany was carried out to the wider world as they returned home.  The changes they must have experienced (because who isn’t changed by encountering bald open love?) regrettably aren’t recorded. But since then, the light that cannot be suppressed has broken out among varied people.  We as a human race have thus become better able to choose whether to also go seeking.  The light is here in the world, to be found.

 Must the discovery of God be Named?

Coming upon some powerful loving spirit in a person or a place leads some to name what they experience – God .  Many simply can’t or won’t do that.  For any number of reasons, the naming would lead them astray, be false and inauthentic.

There are probably different ways of honouring one’s encounters with the great dynamic spirit of love beyond ourselves.

But can we love God without ever naming or acknowledging him or her?

I believe that the God that has been revealed to anyone’s deepest self continues to dwell in the heart and isn’t boxed-in or owned by any gang.  Whatever it is called, or not named at all, it remains a source of creative life energy.

Students of theology must have many ways of dealing with the question.  For me, based on my life, it would be timid, if not downright puny, to sell short a life-force encountered, or to back off calling something great by the name embedded in my culture.  I’ve rediscovered that I cannot avoid experiencing God.  Too many people have God shining out of them.  So have to bear witness and name the name. But that’s me.

Religion I’m having a trickier time with.

Another question: do clear and self-identified atheists have a name for times when they have touched or been touched by something beyond material, beyond themselves?

The Human Spirit is named and honoured by Humanists.  First Nations people speak of the Creator.  What other terms are used by non-Abrahamic people (Jews, Muslims, Christians?)

Humanists and atheists have acted with great love in the world and demonstrated a deeply creative spirit.  Some would say that God acted through them.  Others would say that at our most human, we are indeed loving and caring and that we don’t need to attribute all good to God.

 The Blog as a Source of Revelation for the Writer

I’d like to add (in this most sentimental of Bigger Circle blogs) that there are personal epiphanies – revelations of truth – that I’ve experienced since starting to write this blog about a year ago.  So thank you, Joy Connelly, for inviting me to take this on.  And thank you to all who take the trouble to read this because I imagine you as I’m embarking on crafting these words and it’s a shared enterprise.

 In 2012

Some of you may decide to explore and discover what you’d really like to write about.  And do it!



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Twelve Drummers Drumming – Epiphany!

  1. Dan Cooperstock

    FYI “being critical toward Church and its mistaking of ritual and authority for the reality of God among us” was very much the inspiration for Quakerism.

    I myself have moved away from using the word “God”, at least most of the time, and see it rather as a metaphor for goodness, Truth (which I’m happy to capitalize!) etc. So I would say that for me, epiphanies are moments of seeing a greater Truth.

  2. Must have been odd though, to recognise this Great Spirit in a 12 day old baby. What could have gone through their heads. So many babies died young. Did they ‘know’ he would live? Did they ‘know’ that they were correct in their assumptions about his future?
    Was it a feeling that can come over you that tells you what you are; safe, correct, on the path, in the right. That I would recognise, having experienced it for myself. But not for another being.
    I would love to have had that feeling that they must have had. Otherwise when they left they would have been thinking, ‘jeez, all this for nothing’ or ‘wow, who would have thought that we would actually have found him’. Must have been one big ‘wow’ moment, one way or another.
    I hope that’s what happened. In fact I hope that it did in fact happen and was not just one of our dogmatic beliefs. One of our, ‘you will burn in hell if you don’t believe’ moments.

  3. Mike Gouthro

    I’m an atheist. I have never touched or been touched by anything that I might suspect was not part of the material world.

  4. And thank you, Rosemary, for this year of thoughtful writing. Many of your entries, including this one, have moved me deeply. You have made the story of these three wise men — of momentary recognition and a lifetime of knowing — come alive for me.

    In answer to your question, “Can we love God without ever naming or acknowledging him,” I think the answer is no. To love anyone or anything requires, at a minimum, acknowledging their existence. But that doesn’t mean God cannot work in and through people, whatever they believe — just as gravity acts on us whether we believe in it or not.

    Was it Jung who said, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present”? That’s what I believe.

    • Bidden or not bidden, God is present. Then you don’t have to acknowledge ‘her’ by name. Knowing is knowing, whether from Christian point of view or not.

  5. juanita rathbun

    This week’s topic “Epiphany” is particularly insightful. Your message would make an excellent “sermon” to be proclaimed from the pulpit – because it is particularly relevant to those of us who are struggling for the truth from within the Christian tradition It is also true for the “humanists “ and so-called atheists among us. Surely they cannot believe in nothing – they have to believe in something even if they do not want to call “it” God.

    Keep your thoughts coming.

  6. Mike Gouthro

    “…so-called atheists among us….surely … cannot believe in nothing – they have to believe in something even if they do not want to call “it” God.”

    Belief is not knowledge. Knowledge is acquired by curiosity, reason and healthy skepticism. Belief results from need, as the words “have to believe” imply.

    I’m interested in how universes are born, evolve and die. If this curiosity ever provides answers about who creates universes and why – that would be amazing – but not essential to my well-being.

    Others need to focus on who and why; and many need to have a personal relationship with the ”who”. Without a benevolent creator, some people feel distressed or incomplete. But their creator cannot be known, only believed, at least at this stage in human learning.

    From belief in a creator, inevitably arises the belief that atheists are lacking an essential human component, namely the ability to believe. That strikes me as a closed loop, a logical short circuit, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a rationalization of the believer’s need – not a viable assessment of those who don’t have that need.

    Belief is not knowledge.

    • To say ‘I know’ is a statement of faith. Period. Whether we are talking about knowing there’s a sun in the sky, a thought in our head, or the theory of relativity.
      To say ‘there is no God’ is likewise a statement of faith. Just as to say ‘there is no anti-matter’ is equally a statement of faith. Whether we are talking God or anti-matter, we are talking about things we cannot see, but only surmise the existence of, because of what either helps to explain.
      When I say ‘I know there is a God’, I am not out of mind. I am making a statement as viable as anyone claiming to have a thought in their head, or the existence of anti-matter. Just because we can’t see God, or thoughts in our heads, or anti-matter, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. To know is not to necessarily see.
      If knowledge to confined to mere facts, I would concede to Mike, that belief is not knowledge. But knowledge isn’t confined to mere facts anymore than science is. Knowledge includes theories not only about anti-matter and relativity, but theories about economics, mental health, racial equality as well as how we might resolve some fundamental social issues like homelessness.
      As to what I know and believe:
      I know and believe in love, hard to quantify factually, but impossible to live without.
      And I know God has a name. For much the same reason I know I have a name. Because somebody told me and repeated enough, I started answering to that name when called.
      Jesus taught that were we to ask for anything in his name, God would answer. I started asking and have discovered God answers.

      • Dan Cooperstock

        John, there is a lot more hard evidence for most of those things you say we only believe, not know, than for the existence of God. I really think it is stretching the meanings of words a lot to say that knowledge of the existence of God is on the same level as knowledge of the existence of the sun, our thoughts, etc.
        I’m sorry, but prayers apparently being answered is not a proof for the existence of God. What about all of the prayers that aren’t answered? Do you think that most of the people that die of diseases each year were not praying to be cured? Just because something happens (sometimes) that someone asked God for, does not mean that there is a God that made those things happen!

  7. There are people who see God in everything, and others who can’t see God at all.
    For the former, everything is ‘hard evidence for his existence’, for the latter, the evidence is woefully lacking.
    My contention is simply that whether one understands ‘what is visible to have its origin in the invisible’ or the visible to be all there is; both are statements of belief and both are knowledge based. Neither is more scientific than the other, both rely on a set of propositions impossible to prove.
    As one who has lived long enough to find life more a mystery than an answer; fed as much by the intangibles of hope, awe and love as much as any ‘tangible’ food; I know we do not live by bread alone.
    Ask me to prove it and I resort to the same logic that scientists rely on to insist that light is both particle and wave…’if light were only particles, then how do you explain this?’…’if humanity were the product of only the visible, how do you explain poetry, Mozart, Rembrandt, the hunger for equity and justice, the love of one’s enemies, or the homeless man embracing the rich man as though his brother?’
    Despite the ‘hard evidence’, we know that life isn’t really about ‘the survival of the fittest’. Otherwise we would be hard pressed to explain our collective esteem for the likes of Mother Theresa, Gandhi and anyone else who lives as though in this life the poor are blessed. Such people are driven by intangibles, by realities not seen by either a microscope or telescope. When asked to explain themselves, God is in their answer.
    Some would call them fools, but seeing the deep marks they’ve made on history, human thought and activity, I believe that knowledge for us is to discover the things they discovered, with the same passion as Einstein sought an universal law to explain everything, but with this caveat, that we learn to love our neighbour regardless of who our neighbour is.

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