Epiphany: An Invitation To Contemplation
Epiphany is an invitation to contemplation. If we feel a bit rattled by the idea of quiet, focused gazing, it may well be that we have been led to believe that theological reflection is a discipline of our own making and just needs our best thinking. This intellectual tendency comes into conflict with our need of the Holy Spirit to reveal God to us. As Kenneth Leech writes in Soul Friend:
There should be no conflict between theology and spirituality, still less should theology be seen as a mere theoretical framework for spiritual life. Rather all theology is contemplative, a concentrated looking upon God as revealed in Christ, and manifested in lives which are hidden with Christ. (pp. 36-37)
This concentrated looking is accompanied by a humble waiting and a receptivity to God. As we look and wait, the Holy Spirit helps move beyond the surface of things as they first appear. The epiphany accounts in Matthew and Luke bear the marks of disciples who not only heard the story, but contemplated its deeper dimensions and so take us with them to see what is revealed. The epiphany can now become ours to see.
The wise men are willing to anchor their gaze upon the star, trusting its guidance and meaning, but acknowledging the limit of their revelation as they ask for the help of those within the Jewish tradition. Herod, in contrast to these seekers from afar, is guided by fear, and finally manipulates the information he receives from scripture to his own dark ends. God showing up—epiphany—threatens our human power bases and our need to control. If we are unaware of how God's presence desires to shed light on this dark core of who we are, then we become fearful, even violent, and can use our power as church leaders to destroy what God is doing. Thus the invitation to contemplation is also an invitation to being receptive to the way God comes. Gradually we learn what it means for God to be in charge: Yahweh. In the silence we are aided by the Holy Spirit to notice our resistance, for while we may not identify with Herod in the Matthew account, we are drawn much closer to our own territory as Luke invites us to become a member of the congregation in the synagogue in Nazareth. Now we are among the "church goers" of the day—who also turn to violence in the face of God showing up in Jesus.
However, the invitation is not to gaze upon evil. The concentrated looking is upon God as revealed in Christ, and manifested in lives which are hidden with Christ. In time we become hospitable to God and how God is with us, and among us. In our congregations, in the lives and stories of church members, we begin to see the presence of God and the marks of God's work. We begin to acknowledge that this is not our work, but rather the work of God. Epiphany is happening. We are invited to pay quiet, ongoing attention. Then we begin to know how to respond; to co-labor with God. Then epiphany happens in our own lives.
Wendy J. Miller Eastern Mennonite Seminary Harrisonburg, VA
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