One of the joys of being a pastor is to hear your stories, stories like these—reports of epiphanies.
She was going about her typical day. She wasn’t thinking about God. She wasn’t going through a particularly difficult time when she needed God to show up in her life. And yet, that’s just what God did. “I was driving to work, as usual,” she said, “and while I was sitting there, just stopped in traffic, I looked over to my right. Sunlight was shining through the trees in the park. And I had this odd but quite wonderful feeling that I was being embraced, that I was loved. I can’t describe it, but I’m sure it happened. When traffic started moving again, I felt as if I had grown, as if I were a better person. I wish I could describe it more accurately, but that’s what it was. It was undeniable.”
“When Tommy [a special needs child] was born, I thought to myself, ‘I’m not the best person for this. I’m not a patient person. Frankly, I don’t think that compassion and empathetic understanding are part of my skill set. We had a particularly challenging day with Tommy. His confusion and his outbursts were worse that day than usual. I tried to interest him in kicking a ball around in the yard, but he refused to play.
In frustration, I just sat down and wanted to weep. I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this. I’m the wrong person to have a child who is this difficult to parent.’ That’s what I said. And just then, I looked across the yard at Tommy. He was lying in the grass, looking at a bug or something, head in his hands, looking intently, smiling. And all at once I saw Tommy differently. Not as a problem to be solved, but as a gift. I think I saw my son as God saw my son. Just for an instant. In a moment, I looked at Tommy as a gift of God.”
“I wasn’t thinking about God. I wasn’t feeling particularly religious. That’s what makes it all the more amazing. This probably sounds crazy, but as I was driving to soccer practice, I saw a car in front of me that had a bumper sticker that said, YOU’RE LOVED. I think it was maybe an advertisement for some school, or maybe even a bar. I dunno. At any rate, as I read that bumper sticker, I just had this feeling of being embraced, of being lifted up from where I was, as if everything was falling into place and I knew, really knew, that God loved me. I guess that sounds crazy, but that’s just how it happened.”
Those odd and rare epiphanies are all the more wonderful because of their rare moments when it’s as if the veil separating us from God is pulled back, and we are given a glimpse into something deep, mysterious, and dear. We are given epiphany: a manifestation of God.
Explanation is sort of beside the point. We’ve had some mystical, undeniable, but still inexplicable experience. We know that somehow, the veil has been pulled back. We have been given a vision, maybe just a glimpse, of something going on beneath the surface, some strange but wonderful presence breaking in among us: epiphany.
As a pastor, listening in on accounts of these epiphanies, I have noted a couple of characteristics:
The person who has had such an experience is often reluctant to speak of it. Maybe their reluctance is due to wanting not to cheapen the experience. Or perhaps the person who has had one of these experiences fears that others may ridicule them for supposed credulity or psychosis.
For most of us, even though we can’t explain or fully comprehend these epiphanies in everyday life, our faith is somehow grounded in, dependent upon them.
These epiphanies are a reminder that our faith is something not just of the head, but also of the heart. And though it pains me to say it, from what I’ve observed, these epiphanies rarely seem to happen in church!
I love it when someone says they caught a glimpse of eternity or received a revelation of Christ during our celebration of the Eucharist or (especially!) during one of my sermons. But most often, God’s breaking into life occurs in everyday life—while one is washing dishes at the sink, caring for a child, going about their daily activities.
I’d say their everydayness is one reason to believe in the reality of such epiphanies. We aren’t trying to be religious. We are not busy attempting to think about God. The epiphany is a sign that God is thinking about us. It’s a gift of God, not a figment of our imagination. The epiphany is not self-generated; it’s a gift.
Perhaps God gives us these unexpected, inexplicable moments in order to push us toward faith, or to lure us into belief. I don’t know. But I do know that most of us find that we are dependent on these epiphanies, these gifts, to help us along the way.
I’m not saying that these momentary flashes of insight are the whole story about who Jesus is and what he’s up to.
I hope that you have been given an epiphany by God, a sign that points you toward the reality of God with us. If you haven’t, I bet you will.
And when that veil is pulled back, when you are given a peek, a glimpse into the eternal, I hope you will enjoy it, relish it for the unexpected, undeserved gift that it is. It is God nudging you and saying, “Hey, I am thinking about you!”
Photo by Annelytic