- a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way
- an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
- the 13th track on Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album Folklore
“Big E” Epiphany refers to something only slightly different. The Christian liturgical season of Epiphany begins after the twelve days of Christmas and leads into Lent. It is rooted in a story about a group of astrologers following the stars in search of a child king. In addition to the remarkable manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, there are a number of little epiphanies in this story, too:
King Herod’s epiphany of fear in response to the Messiah’s birth
The magi’s initial interest in paying homage to rumors of a new kind of leader
The magi’s moment of overwhelming joy when the star stops, their giving of gifts to a toddler, and their dream-informed decision to return to their own country without a report to Herod.
Our lives contain mini epiphanies, too, don’t they? Balancing on a bicycle for the first time. A plot twist in your favorite TV show. Learning how to name and honor your needs. A new awareness of life’s fragility after a medical diagnosis. Looking back on a difficult season and seeing all those who held you. Acknowledging the record-breaking one million daily Covid cases in this country. And on this one year anniversary of the January 6 events at the U.S. Capitol, grasping a reality many of us hadn’t imagined possible.
An epiphany is not quite the same thing as a realization. An epiphany is both simple and striking. It comes with a sense that the truth was right in front of us the whole time, that perhaps if we had been paying better attention, the aha moment wouldn’t be as surprising at it is. Maybe that striking plot twist wouldn’t have been such a shock if we had picked up on the writer’s simple clues. Perhaps if we had noticed and honored our own exhaustion, we would not have said yes to another commitment. And if we had only recognized the increase in domestic terrorism and political extremism, we may have been better prepared for an attempted government overthrow.
Over the holidays, I began listening to the podcast “We Can Do Hard Things” with Glennon Doyle and had my own little epiphany. Most days, I actually do feel fairly equipped to do hard things, but some days, the easy things are the most challenging. Remembering to drink enough water. Making the bed. Making the phone call. Cooking breakfast. Responding to the email. Booking the appointment. (Raise your hand if you’ve also ever put off a five-minute task for five weeks!) Having had this insight, I can now travel in a direction that leads to greater care, balance, and wholeness.
So, if the star-seeking outsiders, the insecure kings, the Christ child, and Glennon Doyle have taught me anything it’s this: Epiphany offers an invitation to notice what’s precious right in front of me, to trust God’s vision for an upside-down kingdom, to do the easy thing, and to let Light lead.
May the God of Epiphany surprise you with a small gift of clarity. May your heart be opened to truth in your midst, and may the path in front of your next step be illuminated. May you gift others what you are able to share, and may you receive what God longs to give you. And when an uncertain future threatens to carry you away, may God reel you in so you can be still and know that it’s okay to take a day at a time.
Jeremy Bork is the Director of Programming and Communications at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America.