He’s a little dazed and giddy. Words free flow as energy makes his body restless in the chair. He chats in circles, sometimes connecting thoughts and other times leaving half-sentences hanging in mid-air. I hold the space for him to find his way. Talking to him is like trying to tune in a radio station on one of those old ‘tube’ radios as it warms up.
Finally, he zeroes in on a frequency. “I’ve had an epiphany,” he says. And then, “I’m not exactly sure what’s happening to me.”
You got that right, good man. Something is happening to you. That is, this is nothing you’re doing, nothing you’re deciding. This is outside-in.
“All my wife has been asking – for years now – is to be recognized and loved. In their own way, my children, too. What was I thinking? What have I been doing? How is it possible to be so blind for so long and to think everything is just fine!”
Incredulity is the right response to an epiphany. Incredulity is the wonderful, delicious (and awkward, and frightening, and uncomfortable) moment when everything you think you know and think you believe slams into a Deeper Reality. A Deeper Truth. And there, suddenly, you ‘get’ that you don’t know anything much at all.
You feel like a naked newborn, squalling helpless into the night.
It’s time to see the star again
To ponder whether anything is changing
To give this life a chance again
To open up a window for the soul
And just like this time last year
That same star will turn and say
Will you bring your gift to the birth of love
Or just turn and walk away
An epiphany is an inbreaking. No one knows why or how they happen. Or why they don’t. Or maybe epiphanies are always happening, always around us. In which case no one knows why or how they are suddenly recognized and acted upon. Or recognized and refused. Or never recognized.
Epiphany experiences are and will remain a mystery. Which is part of why epiphanies are so utterly cool when they happen to you. Or when, like me today in this office, you get to be an audience to an epiphany rippling through someone else.
For Christians, Epiphany is a liturgical feast day (January 6th), recalling and retelling the story of a star beckoning three astrologers (the Magi) to the birth of Jesus. This epiphany was a cosmic inbreaking, recognized and acted upon by “Three Wise Men.” They followed the star. They were obedient to the signs and energies inviting them forward into a new life. A new understanding of themselves and the world.
Every now and then a star shines brightly
And hovers over a new chance to live life differently
Born today is an outrageous possibility
What we if were loved, and darkness was redeemed
Maybe then we wouldn’t have to clutch and grab at things
Maybe then we could embrace our joys and sufferings
Do we dare believe that love created everything
‘Tis the season to go wandering after the star
But epiphany experiences are not the sole property of religion or religious people. The ‘secular’ definition doesn’t change the power of the reality: “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.” (The Oxford English Dictionary)
Epiphany experiences are about birth all right – our birth! And rebirth! Again and again life presents the invitation to burn down our limiting, inauthentic, not-so-useful, not-so-lovely and sometimes really unhappy, unpleasant or even destructive ways of being in exchange for a new vision of self and the world.
A better vision.
I tell the man he reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge who, after an epiphany of three dreams, is now standing in his pajamas on a snow crusted balcony, tossing money over into the street, giggling and dumbstruck, like a man bailing water out of a foundering boat.
Like an innocent child.
Incredulity is the first response to epiphany. Gratitude should be the next. Thirdly, action! Go. Do. Redeem your past self now with everything breath, word and deed.
It’s time to see the star again.
(You may drop Steven Kalas a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.StevenKalas is a therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the book “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.”)