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