By Rev. Joan Kessler
Greek mathematician Archimedes was in the bathtub when it happened to him... an epiphany! Presumably it was something about watching his body bob in the tub water that triggered an idea - that the weight of an object can be determined by measuring the amount of water displaced and this discovery came to be known as the theory of buoyancy. For Isaac Newton, it was figuring out the law of gravity when an apple fell out of the tree he was relaxing under and hit him on the head. After much study and consternation, Dimitri Mendeleev came up with the idea for the Periodic Table from a dream. These discoveries have been known as epiphanies.
There is a seemingly interconnected relationship between thinking and imagining, between hard work and hard relaxing that epiphanies find us. An epiphany is that light-bulb moment I am quite sure all of us have experienced from time to time and they do not have to be ground-breaking scientific discoveries but if they have been, this is wonderful news! But I daresay they are always profound. Maybe you have experienced an epiphany about who you are and the future direction you would like to take in your life. Maybe you discovered something about your past that fills in a missing piece for you and your identity, or it was a problem you had been wrestling with that seemed hopeless and from out of nowhere, the solution is right before you.
An epiphany can be best described as a rare occurrence, resulting from a significant thought about a problem and triggered by a new and key piece of information; an epiphany also requires a depth of prior knowledge which gives way to a leap of understanding. They are realizations that grip us with a change, making a way where none existed before.
I am often blessed with the experience of epiphany. I have known lightbulb moments where I have been struggling putting ideas together for a reflection and then when I am least expecting it, in the ordinary and mundane moments like when I am washing the dishes or in the early morning hours when I first wake. The idea I am waiting for just presents itself, and thankfully, just in time for Sunday morning! I attribute this to the work of the Spirit within me. It is the only way I can describe an epiphany. Trusting my words will come together in time is hard work, I don’t mind telling you, and it is the biggest task of my week. It is also why I take Mondays to recharge and decompress and to turn off my thinking and do some hard relaxing I mentioned earlier.
I wonder what the wise ones, these Zoroastrian astrologers from the ancient east we commemorate today, were thinking and feeling when they set out on this precarious journey to find the One they believed to be king of the Jews. They gathered up the most precious gifts in their possession: gold, frankincense, myrrh. What did they calculate? What did they overshoot? What was the road like? And my burning question: how long did it take them? Twelve days or two years? What was it in the sky they saw and knew was different from other constellations and star arrangements they had studied before?
What we are told is they were most intent on finding the infant Jesus that they might worship him and bring him gifts fit for a king. They stop and ask for directions but as fate would have it, they ask the wrong man. King Herod was insecure and frightened by the wise men’s claim that a new king had been born and the threat this brought to his leadership. The wise ones were not deterred and ventured forth to find Jesus and his family in a house.
This is what we celebrate on the January 6, the Day of Epiphany, the first revelation of Jesus to three foreigners who were also gentiles. This child was born for the whole of the world; he would grow to teach and to bring forth restoration and wholeness; to turn the tables on injustice and religious intolerance of his day. A dark night’s sky illuminated with a star that shone brighter than any other is an epiphany. It reminds us that the experience of God can be known in unexpected and mysterious ways.
Sometimes, at night when I lock the church door and step out into the parking lot, I just stop and I look up at the sky and take a deep breath. I spend a lot of my day looking down at my feet and the steps I take. It is easy enough to get caught up in this linear way of thinking and being, of getting from point A to point B. But when I stop there in the dark of night and look up, a feeling washes over me that I am a wee part of something bigger. I don’t have to possess great knowledge and have all the answers to this life’s journey. I just need to look up and trust in God and that a way will be found. Maybe it will come to me in the insignificant and mundane moments of life. This is most likely to be the case. When I look up, somehow, I have this knowing that all will be well. Try it for yourself tonight. Go out in the quiet and the dark and just look up.
Before I leave this reflection for this week, I want to introduce a new practice to us. I want to share Star Words with you. The idea is that you draw a word from the Star Bag and it becomes your guide for the coming year. You can put it on your fridge or in your pocket or beside your bed. The guiding word may become a focus for contemplation, for prayer, and perhaps some special action. So… during our quiet meditation, the Star Bag will pass among you and I invite you to reach in and draw out your word for 2023. There are no rules to this exercise. If you wish to trade words with your neighbor or share them at coffee please do so.
As you pick your Star Word, you might wonder about what it will reveal to you this coming year. How will this word challenge and bring you hope? If inspiration or a connection with your word is not immediate do not despair. This is about a whole year of time to get to know your star word. For those at home on Zoom, I will pick for you at coffee and Our words may even become part of our God Moments in the future, sharing with one another the effect your word had upon you in any given week.
May we open our hearts and our minds to be guided by Spirit’s Presence this year into the unknowns that will shape our lives, our coming together as this community. May we know and experience the Love that takes us to obstacles and barriers and shows us another way forward. And may the dark night sky and a particular shining star bring you a sense of calm and peace that we are not alone. Thanks be to God and Amen.