Happy Feast of the Epiphany.
Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation. In the western churches, the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God is linked to the visit of the astrologers from the east (the “three wise men” of popular Christmas folklore). Eastern churches, however, see the Epiphany, or Theophany (“appearance of God”) as associated more specifically with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, when a voice from heaven announced “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.” (Matthew 3:17 NJB).
It seems to me that most people hunger for an epiphany. Most people yearn for the appearance of the Divine in their lives. Maybe we conceptualize it in different ways, or have different beliefs about how possible or probable such a manifestation might be. Some of us might envision such an appearance in our imagination and then talk ourselves into believing that we have been given a special gift. Others might ignore the burning bush when we stumble upon it, simply because we were expecting a sign of a different nature.
I rather think that the yearning, the hunger, the longing is itself a type of epiphany. Struggling with the absence of God is a way of experiencing God’s presence. Call it a dark epiphany, perhaps. We fool ourselves if we think that God only shows up in the light. We’re so busy looking for the lone brilliant star that guided the magi, that we never bother to gasp in wonder at the luminous presence of God in the entire expanse of the deep, dark sky.
Back on the winter solstice I quoted Arlo Guthrie, who said “You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” Perhaps we cannot be dazzled by the brilliance of an epiphany without the deep unknowing of the dark epiphany. Only in the mystery of God’s hiddenness can God’s manifestation blaze forth.
So the next time you feel afraid of the dark — whether it is a physical darkness, or the darkness of your own unknowing, the darkness of the future, the darkness of others’ hostility or ignorance, or perhaps the darkness of suffering and death — take a deep breath. Consider that, in the midst of your fear, the circumstances are ripe for a dark epiphany. And wait. And trust. And then see what happens.