Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany: recognizing the holy

Epiphany is my favorite Christian holiday. As I wrote in a short note to one of my best friend's today, it is the day the Magi recognized Jesus as savior, ushering in a new church. Jesus as Christ becomes manifest to the three wise men, traditionally in Western Christianity seen as the awareness of Jesus' birth and life becoming known to the gentile world. These themes of recognition, awareness, and acknowledgment as holy actions have always seemed wondrous to me.

My own recent communion at church, discussed last month and through a wonderful multilayered correspondence, was an epiphany for me. I had not recognized, despite years of strong support, that my church was responding to communion in completely new ways. Taking communion at church for me was a personal step in awareness about the new church that my Christian friends are building at East Liberty Presbyterian. Hey, my church says open communion, and they mean it. Epiphany for me is recognizing the value of being included there. Knowledge, recognition and awareness of this new open church means a furthering of my own spirituality. A personal epiphony!

And epiphony should be that way: an opening of awareness, a sudden recognition of holiness, a new knowledge about the sacred. Epiphany is not exclusive to Christianity, anyone can experience a new meaning of sacred.

Epiphany as a holiday also bridges those lovely Christian/Pagan lines I enjoy so. Twelfth Night in England with wassail and caroling; versions of King's Cake abound across Europe; in Holland doors and windows are thrown open for luck; Italy famously celebrates Befana, named for a magical older woman, who visits all the children with gifts and sweets. Some historians trace the Befana to the Roman Goddess Strenia, Strenae or Strina. (Certainly the early church stridently opposed celebrations of Befana). My kids have grown up with very dear friends who cherish their celebration of Befana, and who themselves love the Pagan/Christian overlap.

And beyond Pagan/Christian and traditional religious meanings, there is the deepest layer of Epiphany: a gift of acknowledgment any one human can give another. Awareness/recognition of the holy in another human being is one of the most profound forms of relating humans have. Parents recognize the holy in their children; friends find what is sacred in each other; lovers find the most profound relationship in awareness of soul and body. In a world of impersonal traffic jams, concrete office blocks and gargantuan stores that is western post-industrial capitalism, Eiphany is a celebration of connection.

Have a holy day, everybody! Go recognize something, find some holy, see another as the savior they are.

P.S. Just read the blog of Joan Norton, who posts about the Three Magi on Epiphany as three Druids. Great read. Check it out: MaryMagdaleneWithin. I rather love the human aspects of Epiphany, that gift we can give one another, but it's totally fun to relate druids and magi.

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