Epiphany—A Time For Noticing
When I listen to the person praying in Psalm 63, I don't always identify with the longings:
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (v. 1 NRSV)
I become preoccupied with needs of persons asking for pastoral care, or find myself so well provided for emotionally and physically that I am deaf to my soul's cries. . .but my soul longs to quench its thirst at the well of God's presence.
In our preoccupations which add one more layer of padding to our human blindness, we do not notice God's presence or recognize God who is seeking to get our attention. Like Eli, in the 1Samuel account, we are slow to recognize the working of God in the emotional outbursts and grieving of women like Hannah (1 Sam 1:14) or in the questions of children like the boy Samuel. But that is precisely our task, for we "work together with God" (2 Cor 6:1). So we need to learn to recognize the epiphany of God's presence.
First, to be receptive to the work of God in others. This means noticing more than the person—a weeping woman, a questioning child, two men who were inquiring where Jesus found lodging (Jn 1:38). It means enlarging the focus of our noticing to include the question: God, help me to see what you are doing in this person. As I tell seminary students from time to time, God is always up to something!
Second, to be receptive to the presence and movement of God in our own lives. The Psalmist helps us grow in this kind of noticing in Psalm 63: He paid attention to his soul's longings. Sometimes as I open myself to God's presence in prayer I do not feel like praying. Then I remind myself that my soul does long for God, and I'm just not in touch with my true, inner self at that moment. But as I meditate on God, open my attention to God in times of quiet, and simply reflect on where and how God has been my help over the past twenty-four hours (or week) (Ps 63:6,7), then I begin to become aware of the epiphanies of God in my own life and my own responses or resistances to them. Paul, in the (1 Cor 6) passage reminds us that "anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (v. 17). In those quiet, reflective times, the Holy Spirit helps us see how that oneness is happening. There is a growing awareness among both clergy and lay persons for their need of a soul-friend or spiritual friend with whom they can reflect on the movements of their spiritual life. Such books as Tilden Edwards' Spiritual Friend, Paulist Press, 1980, and my work Learning to Listen, a Guide for Spiritual Friends, Upper Room, 1993, can both give some helpful guidance here.
Thirdly, Jesus invites us to "Come and see" (Jn 1:39). Our old nature will resist intimacy with God, will avoid noticing the epiphany of God's presence in Jesus Christ, in the presence of his Holy Spirit in us and with us now. For a thousand and one reasons we hide like Adam and Eve, and can be fearful of coming too close. But Jesus simply and patiently invites us. And when we begin spending time with him—just to see where he lodges—we find ourselves wanting to stay all day (Jn 1:39) and singing for joy in the shadow of his wings (Ps 63:7). Rather than pushing to do the work of ministry on our own, we discover the easy yoke of ministry as we notice God present, sustaining us (Psalm 63:8), and showing up in all kinds of gracious ways in the lives of others.
Wendy J. Miller Eastern Mennonite Seminary