Epiphany: Courage, Movement, Attention

If Advent is waiting, then Epiphany is moving.

In December, in the middle of advent, a season of waiting, I wrote in my journal that “it felt like a marathon – which is a kind of waiting in itself.”  If you read my last blog, my advent was anything but the kind of sedentary waiting one does at the hospital or at the airport; rather it was wrap this, deliver that, attend this, visit them, cook this, pick up that.  The days of waiting seemed consumed with movement — all toward Christmas Day, the finish line.

Then the movement stopped. The waiting was over. We celebrated and enjoyed. Finally, after our kids were back at school, we were back at work and the holidays were over, my husband and I begin to dismantle the Christmas tree and all its trimmings.  We found ourselves finishing the task on January 6th. On the liturgical calendar it is Epiphany, a celebration of the Wise Men’s visit to the Christ Child.   They are no longer traveling, following a small star in the sky. Now they see in a human child the Word which called all light into existence.

We are putting ornaments in boxes and rolling up strings of lights. I’m packing up my collections of Santas and Nativity scenes. The live greenery surrounding them and the wreaths in almost every room come down and the dead leaves and branches shed all over the furniture and the floor.  I’m sweeping and and picking up dustpan after dustpan of needles that have fallen from our brittle tree which my husband has now dragged to the front porch. In a fit of New Year’s decluttering and cleaning, I decide to pull every piece of furniture out of the living room, remove the seagrass rug which is dry-rotted on the backside, and rearrange the furniture.

That evening a friend sent me a text with news that a research project she’s worked on during her recent graduate school experience had just been published.  She’d used her own experience with cancer as an impetus to return to school and do this important work. She’s made some courageous and life-altering decisions along the way.  I responded to her text with these words, “You’re an inspiration of where one can be in a few years with courage, movement and attention.”  And then I had my own small epiphany.  Those are the ingredients of transformation: courage, movement and attention.

In the two years prior to my taking this job, my husband’s job had him working nearly two hours away. He was really only home on the weekends. We considered moving. I’d prayed for courage often during those two years, though really not understanding why, as I didn’t recognize  fear in myself at the time. (That lightbulb moment came eventually.) The relocation of our family didn’t happen but change was coming for me in all kinds of ways and the nudge to pray for courage was the beginning of a Divine conversation.

It takes courage to move. Willingness to move a household and family, to make a job change, to get out of ‘stuck’ place, to let go of bitterness, to get out of a tired narrative, to move your mind to think in a new way, to move your body toward what it needs – courage is the fuel, but the body still has to put one foot in front of the other over and over and over: Move until you reach the destination.  The wise men kept traveling, night after night. They watched the sky, their camels plodding on.

This same friend had said to me, “Pay attention to what comes unbidden.”  The context of that quote was my contemplating an out-of-the blue offer to teach again after a twenty year break from the classroom. I’d been doing free-lance devotional writing and researching pursuing a graduate degree. The job I took was a total shift for me, as I’d been a stay-at-home mom for eighteen years. The four years prior to that I’d been in the business world. Way back, twenty two years before, I’d been a classroom teacher.  I’d been longing for freedom from an uncomfortable family situation; my freedom came in the form of a full-time teaching job. Talk about paradox. Sometimes when you arrive at the scene, it looks nothing like what you expected.

The word ‘epiphany’ means a moment when you suddenly see or hear something in a new or clear way. “The lightbulb came on” teachers say, when we see that knowing look on a student’s face. An epiphany is a moment of pause, a moment of revelation. But the still point of revelation is brief, for we are changed by it and it demands we respond in some way.  Epiphany is movement. The Wise Men didn’t stay with the Christ Child, they went home  – by another way.

Several months ago, a friend brought to my attention the James Taylor song, “Home by Another Way” in which Taylor writes, “But Herod’s always out there, he’s got our cards on file / It’s a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch, old Herod likes to take a mile / It’s best to go home by another way, home by another way.

All of life is transformation. Epiphanies are ours for the asking and seeing – and then responding  -with courage, movement, and attention.

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