Getting That You Don’t Get It

The epiphany of January 6 celebrates the coming of the Magi to baby Jesus. The event is meant to portray the affirmation by other religious traditions that Jesus is the Redeemer, the One who has been sent. Often a statement like this stops any further thought about the Epiphany. Putting the religious associations aside, we still have the image of three wise men or kings putting a great deal of effort and perhaps risking their lives in order to make their journey. They are often portrayed in paintings as offering gifts. But within the story is a clear notion that any of us, king or shepherd, is capable of a transformative insight. We don’t even need to be religious.

This holiday is barely remembered in Western culture, though until the mid twentieth century it was celebrated throughout Europe and Asia Minor. For me it is a useful reminder to live with awareness and insight. Paintings of the Epiphany present a setting filled with spiritual light. If only I could remember to do the things that bring daily light.

James Joyce used the word epiphany as a literary device to designate a moment near the end of a story when the protagonist realizes that he or she has had the wrong idea and has behaved badly. Joyce’s secular distinction shows us that the need for insight and the experience of psychological light is universal, and examples from all cultures bear this out.

So how is it that I can go through an entire year without understanding anything of real value? Not stuff about operating equipment or making money or organizing one’s day–yes that too is important–but the moments when we understand what we are doing and why we have ended up in this place.

The good news is that the holiday will come again in 365 days and offer us another chance at having an epiphany or knowing that somewhere in that year we were given a moment or two of understanding,

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