The Work of Epiphany

Densely Populated Streets, India
Traffic, Chennai, India

Yesterday marked the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, is the final day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It memorializes the arrival of the wise men at the crib of the infant Jesus. An epiphany is a sudden insight or awakening to the deep meaning of something. The Christmas story suggests the wise men, who were not Jewish,  and perhaps not all men, suddenly realized they were witnessing a great miracle.

Perhaps you have had such an experience of awakening. Psychotherapy mines our personal and collective stories for just such nuggets of inspiring truth. Dreams sometimes bring insight, as do conversations with our loved ones. Often, epiphanies shock, heal, and liberate us.  They may also frighten us and radically disrupt our lives. Seldom are we able, following an epiphany, to simply go home, back to our everyday lives, as the wise men reportedly did.

There is, in the definition of epiphany, the suggestion that such an awakening opens the door to learning and wisdom. Epiphanies are seldom democratic. Rarely do entire populations of people come to a deep understanding of a problem at the same moment. Sometimes, such as with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a people awaken simultaneously to the presence of a task, but this rarely brings collective wisdom.

Shamans and mystics frequently report another form of epiphany: the world is perfect as it is! From this vantage point, we are each doing exactly as we were meant to do, and we are called to awaken. We are invited to wake from our personal and collective slumber. We are encouraged to see our impacts on others and the world, and to create lives governed by love and compassion. We are called to acknowledge suffering, and to do our what we are able to ameliorate it.

This morning Jennie and I were discussing her upcoming trip to Bangladesh and India. Both countries are increasingly, sometimes severely, touched by climate change. Bangladesh is a very low-lying, densely populated country, dramatically impacted by tropical cyclones and sea level changes. It is also a country of refuges. Few people in India or Bangladesh deny the problems posed by a rapidly warming planet. Many in Bangladesh wonder what they will do if displaced by emerging catastrophic rises in sea level.

Bangladeshis are, like the island peoples of the Pacific, and our Indigenous aunts and uncles everywhere, threatened by climate change that is driven largely by Western countries and the China. For many in the West, climate change is an inconvenience. Many deny the climate is changing, or downplay the role humans are taking in those changes. For Native people, and those living in the Third World, it is increasingly a threat to our very survival as Native people and communities.

The Feast of the Epiphany invites us to awaken to a changing world, to risk  hope, and to accept the task at hand. We cannot simply, as did the wise men, give thanks to the Creator and go home. We are all home already, denizens of this bright blue planet. We are all kin, and ultimately share the same fate. There is no where else to go.

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