Synchroblog January 2011: Stories of Epiphany
[This post is part of a group synchroblog. This month the bloggers will share stories of epiphany. I will add links to the other synchrobloggers below as they come in. Check them out!]
This is the season of epiphany. The synchroblog mission this month, should I choose to accept it, is to share an epiphany. I like the description shared with us by Liz Dyer: “The word “epiphany” is rich in meaning. Epiphany is derived from the Greek epiphaneia and means manifestation, shining forth, revelation or appearance. In a religious context, the term describes the appearance of an invisible divine being in a visible form. It can also indicate a sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something. An “epiphany” might refer to those times in life when something becomes manifest, a deep realization, a sudden recognition that changes one’s view of themselves or their social condition and often sparks a reversal or change of heart.”
I pondered a long while as to what to write about the times I have experienced something like an epiphany. I even worried that people my judge my experiences as not quite fantastic enough or perhaps dismiss them as just a fancy of imagination. One such time was a lovely sense of transcendence during the sharing of the wine and the bread amongst a large group of friends. The glow of light in the room seemed to become more golden and the music muted and warbled as if my senses were shifting out of time. I felt people moving past me and around me as we made our way to the Table and back, yet I was aware of many, many more people pressing in on us as if the veil between this world and the next had dissolved and we were mixed with all the saints from all times. My head bowed low with the weightiness of so much life. There we all were, belonging together and being knitted together by that salty sweet wine and yeasty bread. It was a very thin place, as the Celtic Christians would say. It all seemed too much to ever speak aloud.
Then there have been times when I have heard God call my name. I don’t remember much else of those times except that the reality of God seeing me was utterly transforming, changing despair to energy to move me upward and out of myself. It only took the utterance of my name.
However, I think the most transforming epiphany that I have had was when I gained the courage to kill God. I have the ugly persistent habit, as many of us do, of re-creating God in my miniscule mind over and over. The God of my making starts off pretty cool. He’s the Good Shepherd. He is filled with compassion. He loves us all as we are and He wants to change our lives for the better. He wants to change this world. But eventually this God becomes too weak for the suffering that I bear and the questions that I struggle with. Then this God seems to bolt his doors and lock his windows at the sound of prayer. He seems indifferent to the cries of the women mutilated by multiple rapes in the Congo, people ravaged by mental illness in the US, and the despairing mindset of the chronically poor. He tells me to buck up. I am afraid of this shepherd. I am left wanting.
This God seems like a master of transactions, neatly swapping blood for crime, stamping our jail release cards with steely jaw and furrowed brow. He likes us busy and noisy and proving our worth. He loves agendas and programs and living in victory (whatever that means) and measuring people by our morality (whatever that means). He surrounds me with “superior” Christians and their truth. He looks down a long nose of disappointment. He takes on forms reflected by so many certainties in which so many dare to prescribe what he is like. He creates enemies. Sometimes he wears suspenders and rolls his eyes at right-wingers, sometimes he wears sporty glasses and shoots bears in Alaska. Sometimes he speaks in tongues and sometimes he wears the collar and the stole. Sometimes, he lures me to believe he is all about my prosperity. And sometimes, my pastor has noted, he is an abusive boyfriend. The rod and staff are critical and controlling.
My faith dies at the hands of this God. My heart withers under his gaze. Courage came when I told God, “No more.” If I cannot love you, I cannot do this anymore. Ministry, evangelism, writing, counseling – all I did in God’s name. No. More. How does one pours out a life for anything less than love?
Florence Nightingale once said, “I can’t love because I am ordered– least of all I can’t love One who seems only to make me miserable here to torture me hereafter. Show me that He is good, that He is lovable, and I shall love Him without being told.” That was my epiphany. God wins hearts by being God. None of those things – actions or inaction that I don’t understand, doctrines that seem far removed from incarnate expression and polarizing sentiments that ravage church and community- none of these things win hearts to God. They may win followings and fanatics, but they do not win hearts.
I needed to shed this God even if there was nothing to replace him. In a way that was both wonderful and strange, a Buddhist friend helped me to this realization. “Tell God what you feel,” he said. “Tell him!” So I did. I told him off. And that God faded away like a shadow in the rising sun. Then GOD, big and bright and solid, danced around me the way a caged animal kicks up its legs upon first freedom. He danced for joy at my release. Finally!
All shall be well and all shall be well. The words of Julian of Norwich rang out in my soul. Nothing had changed yet these words felt undeniably true in the presence of this dancing God. And the dancing God dances not because he cares little about suffering; he dances because of the deeper good that is happening right in our midst, a deep magic that works backward through time. He dances with mirth that knows not only the end of the Story, but also the whole Story as it plays out right now in our midst. He dances because his shed blood forms a sticky glue that will knit us together, all of us together, filling in all the gaps and holes through which too many have slipped away. He dances because he knits together new life in his womb away from our prying eyes, waiting to be birthed in us at the right time. He dances because he is about life, life and more life.
The joke on me is that it was God who gave me courage to kill God, of course. He is the Great Iconoclast, as CS Lewis says. He will destroy false images of himself. He’s willing to die to show us himself. And the deep magic of God has a way of bringing dead things back to life. To paraphrase Lewis’ close friend JRR Tolkien, beyond the “small and passing” shadow that creates such a distorted concept of God, there is always “light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
May each of us be graced to know this epiphany again and again. May we walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear. May our false gods die in our heads that God might be continually born anew in our hearts.
The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwellin the house of the LORD