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A Present-Day Epiphany Story

By Terry LePage

Terry LePageOnce upon a time, a child began asking questions.  Where is God in the world?  How do we see God?  And, she wondered, what does God do all day?

When she had been much younger, I think she knew.  She experienced the wonder of the world and she basked in her parents’ love, and it was all epiphany.  She did not imagine herself as separate from the world, or from God.  But as she grew the shine faded, and she missed it, though she did not remember exactly what it was she missed.  The memory of it haunted her like a fragment of a forgotten dream.

This child was taken to church, but she didn’t discover God there.  She heard a lot about God.  What she heard was, “Be good, be good, just be good.” She did try to be good, but she wasn’t very good at being good.  It was thoroughly discouraging.

This child kept an eye on the people she knew who said they were working for God.  They worked very hard, caring for others and trying to make the world a little more orderly and a little fairer.  She supposed that was a good thing, but she wondered, what’s God doing to help with this working and the caring?  It seemed to her that working for God without God around to pitch in was awfully lonely.

She observed that for some people, God was like a mighty King: always in control, determining the course rivers, the schedule of earthquakes, the rise and fall of nations.  Demanding obedience, promising reward, threatening punishment.  People who liked this kind of God seemed relieved that someone was in charge of the world.  But that kind of God repulsed her.  And these people usually had some human leader who spoke for their God– told them what to do.  Naturally that human leader became very powerful himself.  (And it was always a man.)  But why was he special, that God spoke only to him?  Well, if God was going to give orders, he was going to have to do it to her personally.  She was that stubborn.

Nobody close to her believed in that kind of a controlling God, anyway.  Quite the opposite.  They talked about a mighty God– on Sunday morning– but it seemed nobody had seen that might in action for a long time.  The miracles in the Bible were from biblical times, or maybe they were superstitions that people had back in biblical times.

She also heard of a “clockmaker God,” who had created the world, wound it up and set it running on its own, and was waiting in heaven to meet us in person after we died.  She realized that whatever those people said on Sunday morning, it was this clockmaker God they seemed really to expect.  A far-away God.

She decided that if God was going to ignore her, then she would ignore God too.  She redirected her energy into asking questions of the natural world.  This was fun.  This was science.  Studying the natural world filled her with wonder.  As she delighted in the beauty and the patterns of atoms and crystals, and she felt as if she had been given a marvelous gift.  But where was the Giver?  She still did not know.

Eventually the child became a woman, well studied in the ways of science.  She still had a sense that something was missing.  She went back to church, and brought all her questions with her.  She decided to do some research, at a seminary bookstore.  A writer named Matthew Fox told her of panentheism.  Not pantheism: all is God.  (She was quite sure she was not God, despite what the Hindus and the New Agers tried to tell her.)   Panentheism:  all is in God, and God is in everything.  Aha!  Epiphany!

Some of her friends objected to panentheism:  “So, is God like the Force in Star Wars?”  To them, God was personal, not a force.  Actually, she didn’t have much trouble picturing a Force that was personal.  She had met much stranger things in Quantum Mechanics.

Memories came, of all the times when she was lost in beauty and wonder of the natural world, and of those precious times when she touched love.  No separation.  There is no separation.  And it made sense to her.  God is not far away.  God is here, everywhere, shining in and through every bit of reality, but most of the time we don’t perceive it.  Panentheism.  She liked how the poet Kabir explained it: “I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.”

She heard the familiar story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan again, in a new way.  God is like Annie Sullivan and we are like Helen Keller.  Teacher Annie is trying to get through to Helen, but Helen is deaf and blind, so she cannot understand.  The world is full of light and sound, but she cannot perceive any of it.  Annie is holding Helen’s hand, and spelling out the letters in sign language into her hand, but Helen does not understand what Annie is saying, or even that Annie is trying to communicate with her.  Persistent Annie runs water across both of their hands as she spells the letters for water into Helen’s palm.  Then suddenly, comprehension!  Epiphany!  And Helen laughs with joy, because she realizes she is no longer alone.

But the woman still wondered, as she had as a child: what exactly does God do?  Besides being the force that sets the atoms to dancing and holds everything together in wonderful complexity.  She listened to the teachings of Jesus– no doubt an expert– and she decided that God invites.  Jesus was busy inviting people to the Kin-dom* of God, this place where people are in right relationship and get healed and transformed, and have dinner parties.  She was determined to accept the invitation and live in that Kin-dom.

And the woman realized pretty quickly: she is not very good at accepting these invitations.  Most of the time she wants to do things her own way– in the dark, like a young Helen Keller.  But still the light shines.  All she has to do is turn toward it, accept the invitation, no matter how long she has been wandering around in the shadows.

The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection was never an easy story for that woman to hear.  Traditional interpretations, suggesting that kingly God requiring blood, left her cold.  But now she heard it in a new way.  It was a story of God’s invitation, and people refusing that invitation.  Then Jesus continuing to invite, no matter what the cost.  Shining love into hatred, shining hope into hell, shining life into death.  Now for her cross is a powerful symbol that God keeps inviting us, no matter what.

Frequently, this woman forgets what she knows:  the presence of God in every face, in every leaf and flower.  If she imagines herself alone, it is because she will not open herself to the wonder that is the world aglow with God.  If sometimes she imagines that God has nothing to say to her, really she is refusing to hear.  She still occasionally gets herself into deep holes, and that’s not all bad.  When she is in deep enough and she panics, she finally remembers that God is right there with her, lighting the Way forward.

And she gets to help God!  To remind people that they are never alone.  That the world is alive with wonder and possibility, even if our eyes are not always tuned to see it.  That God is here now, not just conjuring the rare miracle, but inviting and sustaining and loving and creating all the time.  No matter what.  She invites people to reflect God’s light into the world, in the form of love and justice, hope and healing.  Shine on!  Wishing you many epiphanies.

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*”Kin-dom of God” is a term suggested by some contemporary scholars to better convey the essence of the gospel phrase “Kingdom of God” to people for whom the concept of Kingdom is anachronistic, and represents injustice.

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