We’ve all had it happen and said something like, “I just suddenly realized…” New realizations or new meanings have come to mind; or sometimes something makes sense for the first time…who knows why or from where. We’ve all had moments like that when an essential truth reveals itself, moments of magically or divinely inspired insight: an epiphany.
Sometimes, we refer to them as an “a-ha! moment.” Not just moments when we remember an old friend’s name or lyrics to a song…that’s just memory at work. Epiphanies are illuminating moments, moments of discovery, moments when reality reveals a deeper meaning, deeper workings, or a path we hadn’t recognized. They are the moments that change a person, that can’t be undone.
Of course, Epiphany with a capital “E” is the moment in the Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) when the Magi from the East find Joseph, Mary, and the Christ child in the stable. Their Epiphany is that they recognize the deep reality of the poor family huddled with the animals in the stable: the Magi recognize the divine nature of the child, they recognize God has become man. This is in contrast to the shepherds, who are directly told by angels, (Luke 2:11-12) “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The shepherds are informed, but the Magi make a realization, an Epiphany.
An epiphany has that greater sense to it, like the Magi story, the completion of a long journey through ignorance. I know epiphanies happen to us all because I see them in movies, on television, read them in books. I treasure it most when the artist captures and conveys the magic of the moment…not heavy handed, but like a realization blooming from within.
The moment in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) when Lawrence realizes his path forward in leading the Arabs against the Turks: he literally walks into the desert to seek his answer, and his epiphany sneaks up on him from behind. It is a subtle magic moment that director David Lean lets play out as a moment of the character’s clear and sudden understanding.
The moment in The Office (2007) when Jim realizes that his vision of his future includes Pam…that he loves her. He seems surprised by the clarity of his realization in reaction to David Wallace’s interview question, “So, long haul…where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Jim, understanding for the first time, moves forward decisively.
The moment near the end of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” (1956) when the elderly cousin has her epiphany, a beautiful moment of realization that Capote captures beautifully: “‘My, how foolish I am!’ my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. ‘You know what I’ve always thought?’ she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond.” She goes on to recount not that she has biscuits in the oven, but that she has a new and surprising understanding of the presence of God.
The challenge is for anyone of us to recognize the epiphany, to know when that magical or divine insight is a reality. That must be an act of faith or trust or, maybe, hope. But first we just have to accept that such epiphanies happen and can change us, can define a previously unseen way forward.