One time a friend of mine was on a bus that had only a few passengers, including a man with three young sons. These boys were extremely rambunctious, running around, walking on the seats, bumping into people. They were really getting on my friend’s nerves, and it was extra irritating because their dad was just sitting there staring into space, not seeming to notice the trouble his kids were causing, not making any effort to get them to behave.
My friend was getting more and more frustrated, and then one of the boys ran up the aisle, stepped on his foot and got mud on the cuff of his slacks. He’d had enough. And here’s Dad, still sitting there, not paying any mind.
My friend gets up, full of righteous indignation but trying not to lose his cool, and says to the man, “Sir, your sons are out of control. Can you please get them to settle down?”
The father was clearly embarrassed, but had an utterly dazed look on his face. He was courteous and apologized, but then said something my friend would never forget. He said, “My wife died a few hours ago. We’re going home from the hospital, but the boys don’t know yet that they’re not going to see their mom again. I’m trying to figure out what to say to them.”
Now it’s not hard for us to imagine how my friend’s entire outlook was transformed in that moment. He no longer saw this family in terms of his own inconvenience, and how they affected his ability to have a peaceful ride home. He took himself out of the center of the story – this situation wasn’t about him and whether or not he was justifiably irritated. All he was thinking about from this moment on was what this man and his sons were going through – their suffering, their loss.
All the bitterness and judgment that he had been feeling toward them was gone in an instant.
He sat down next to this person whom he’d been so angry with a moment before. And he called out to the boys, “Hey fellas, come here – I’ve got something to show you.” And they crowded around him and he took out a pen and a pad of paper and started showing them how to play tick-tack-toe, and how to draw pictures of animals that he knew how to draw.
They came to the family’s bus stop, and it wasn’t his stop but he got out with them, and there was a restaurant there and he bought them a meal to take home, and said a prayer for them. These acts of goodwill would of course not diminish the pain and the grief the father and sons were entering, but it was nevertheless a moment when anger and judgment were transformed into compassion and kindness.
Now, here’s a question. What does the word ‘epiphany’ mean to you?
Casually, this word is used to describe an ‘aha moment,’ like when you realize two things are connected, or maybe when you’re trying to figure out a problem and the solution suddenly occurs to you. I’ve had people say they had an epiphany when they realized where they left their car keys.
The Christian meaning of epiphany is an experience of divine illumination, when God’s truth is both revealed and perceived, albeit within the limitations of human comprehension. If an epiphany is an ‘aha moment’ it’s of the supreme and transcendent variety, when our perspective is broadened, our outlook re-shaped, and our ideas about the way things are get taken apart and replaced with a new understanding.
Epiphany is an experience of transformation, an moment of new understanding and indeed new life, throughout which we cannot remain unchanged.
It’s disruptive, but also a profound opportunity, because when our understanding and expectations are dismantled and reassembled, this is a moment when grace can take hold of us, inaugurate a new season of compassion in our lives, and convince us of our own great capacity for generosity, peacemaking, neighborliness, faith and love. Because epiphanies happen, our lives, and the world around us, can change for the better.
Blessings to you, this holy season of Epiphany.
The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa, seeking transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays at 5pm
102 E. 2nd St. Davenport