The Feast of the Epiphany just passed, for Christians. So I’ve been musing on the other meanings of the word “epiphany”.
It is one spectacular word. In addition to describing human experiences some would refer to as “encounters with the divine”, this word can also refer to those moments when we’re “seeing the light” all of a sudden, or those moments when our perspective shifts and we feel like we’re “seeing things as they really are”. These days, we might also call that a “lightbulb moment”. “Epiphany” refers to powerful experiences of renewed perception and understanding. An epiphany could happen to anyone.
An atheist or agnostic is just as likely to have a moment of epiphany as a religious person. Some of us are pursuing scientific knowledge through passionate inquiry, hoping to shed the light of reason on some area previously hidden from understanding. Others pursue deeper knowledge of the Divine Mystery through prayer, feeling filled with light. And there are moments of everyday mysticism, when the rosy light of dusk suffuses everything with a magical glow, making us feel more at home in the world.
Transport yourself to a moment when that’s happened to you. You know those situations when you feel like you’ve been muddling around in a dark room, fumbling for the edges of your mental furniture, and then with the flick of a switch, you suddenly GET IT? Those are priceless moments.
There is so much visual metaphor in the mix here. Of all the senses, this culture places the most weight on sight. “I’d have to see it to believe it”. With our eyes, we size things up, evaluate them—we trust our eyes to tell us the truth in a way that we don’t always trust our “gut feelings” or “hearsay”.
We really do have a habit of equating seeing with knowing. And here’s where that convergence of light-and-seeing metaphors is so beautiful. We stretch language to try and capture these experiences– knowing, seeing, epiphany– because they’re precious to us. How we look upon the world, and how we know things to be true: these things are essential to identity, safety, and personal growth.
Contemplating epiphanies is exciting and refreshing because it reminds us that we don’t have to plod along in life, rigidly clinging to one way of thinking. There are experiences where the lights come on.
Epiphany should have a special place in the lexicon of human experience. We may not agree on the content of our beliefs, and our assumptions may stay hidden from us forever. But we’re all human. While we don’t share knowledge or conviction, we do share experience. May we all have countless opportunities to see life in a new light.