From the Dictionary.com website:
1. a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
2. an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight."
In researching "epiphany" I ran across this thread of material about James Joyce. Joyce is famous not only for his stories, but for his aesthetic theories. Not unlike C.S. Lewis, Joyce's theories about art touch shoulders with the religious mysteries. As you all know, as an artist, I too cultivate an intimate relationship between my creative life and my spiritual life. Indeed, if your life is really integrated you should not be able to separate the carnal from the spiritual in ANY your daily doings; but-- let's get real, we are sinners precisely because we cannot sustain the state of "Constant prayer" suggested by Jesus for those who are strong enough to do so. But we can learn to use crutches to help us hobble into that angelic realm for short (and perhaps longer and longer) periods of time. My involvement in art brings me into contact with the spiritual many times day--learning how to generate artistic epiphanies in myself, has brought me a step closer to the mastering the ability to put myself in touch with God.
From About.com/Grammar and Composition:
A term in literary criticism for a sudden realization--a flash of recognition in which someone or something is seen in a new light. Adjective: epiphanic.
In Stephen Hero (1904), Irish author James Joyce used the term epiphany to describe the moment when the "soul of the commonest object . . . seems to us radiant. The object achieves it epiphany." Novelist Joseph Conrad described epiphany as "one of those rare moments of awakening" in which "everything [occurs] in a flash.""
Here's the Joyce sequence, starting with Wikipedia:
"An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something. The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has "found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture," or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference. This concept is studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.
Although epiphanies are only a rare occurrence, following the process of significant labor, there is a common myth that epiphanies of sudden comprehension have also made possible leaps in technology and the sciences. Though famous individuals like Archimedes and Isaac Newton might have had epiphanies, they were almost certainly the result of a long and intensive period of study those individuals have undertaken, not a sudden, out-of-the-blue, flash of inspiration on an issue they have not thought about previously.
The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is used much more often and without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery comes suddenly from the outside.
The word's secular usage may owe some of its popularity to James Joyce, who expounded on its meaning in the fragment Stephen Hero and the novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Referring to those times in his life when something became manifest, a deep realization, he would then attempt to write this epiphanic realization in a fragment. Joyce also used epiphany as a literary device within each short story of his collection Dubliners (1914) as his protagonists experience a moment of self-understanding or illumination, and come to sudden recognitions that changes their view of themselves or their social condition and often spark a reversal or change of heart.
From Joyce's Dubliners as Epiphanies
By Francesca Valente:
"--from Stephen Hero:
"By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments."
"Epiphany"refers to a showing-forth, a manifestation. In the Christian tradition the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ's divinity to the Magi. For Joyce, however, it means a sudden revelation of the whatness of a thing, the moment in which "the soul of the commonest object...seems to us radiant" (Joyce, Stephen Hero 213). The artist is supposed to search for an epiphany not among the gods but among men in "casual, unostentatious, even unpleasant moments" (Ellmann, James Joyce 87). Since for Joyce "all art is a shadow of the Incarnation" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 251), his choice of the religious term "epiphany" is very appropriate because it underlines the conception he had of the artist as a priest of the eternal imagination, a revealer, i.e. a mere impersonal agent, "humble before the laws of things" and ready "to strip himself of all but his mere agency" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 252)."
From Joseph Campbell's Masks of Eternity:
"Joyce’s formula for the aesthetic experience is that it does not move you to want to possess the object. A work of art that moves you to possess the object depicted, he calls pornography. Nor does the aesthetic experience move you to criticize and reject the object — such art he calls didactic, or social criticism in art. The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object. Joyce says that you put a frame around it and see it first as one thing, and that, in seeing it as one thing, you then become aware of the relationship of part to part, each part to the whole, and the whole to each of its parts. This is the essential, aesthetic factor — rhythm, the harmonious rhythm of relationships. And when a fortunate rhythm has been struck by the artist, you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest. That is the epiphany. And that is what might in religious terms be thought of as the all-informing Christ principle coming through."
I find much of interest in that paragraph; I am fascinated by the detail with which Joyce has thought through the various degrees of relationship a person can have with an art object. But I am mostly interested to read about "the harmonious rhythm of relationships". Rhythm is indeed a crucial ingredient in the evocation of an epiphany. I have already mentioned to you the material from my doctoral thesis about psychological re-centering which leads to the intuitive response. What I failed to mention to you is that the element of rhythm, the progression of the experience as it unfolds in time, is a fixture in the system: the unfolding of an epiphany obeys certain laws of nature--its sequential components accelerate through time toward an end condition in a fixed tempo relative to the materials involved. In other words, all though all epiphanies do not take the same amount of real time to unfold, the general characteristic of ACCELERATION that effects the the ultimate re-centering of the components (the ideas, the feelings, the focus), is a constant proportion. I did quite a lot of thinking and experimenting with this, and it is absolutely true that, although an intuitive response happens in a momentary flash, there is discernible a definite TEMPO to the progression of elements in the sequence that accelerates toward a specific moment. This is like escape velocity.
In the poem Adam's Curse, Yeats makes the following observation about the creation of poetry:
"I said, ' A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'"
The point here is that, generating an epiphany in oneself requires much labor and concentration over time, but the final visitation of divine light from above always illuminates the experience in a momentary flash--a flash that transports us from the mundane realm into an eternal moment. The heavenly energy that attends the experience of all great art (by definition) is always made of the stuff of eternity.
Epiphany has had a special meaning for me ever since I first learned what it was; that moment of recognition, of discovery, of "Aha!" is the moment artists seek without ceasing, when they strive to create art that tells the truth, and more, CREATES the truth out of its own internal logic.
Epiphany lost me my job once:
this new minister had just hired on at the Methodist Church where I had been leading the choir for almost five years, and, in his capacity as the new director of worship, he took exception to many of the pieces I programmed; the problem reached a climax at Epiphany:
For several years this small group and I had made a tradition of doing Randall Thompson's setting of the Robert Frost poem, "The Pasture" at this time of year. It was the previous minister, a real saint and a friend, who had introduced me to Randall Thompson in the first place, and he understood the connection I was making between the Wise Men recognizing Baby Jesus, and the recognition of the newness of life down in the pasture with the new calf. Well, this guy didn't get it, and friction arose between us that ended in my being fired.
Nevertheless, Epiphany as a time of year, and epiphany as a mode of experience, have remained meaningful to me. I think that, as rational beings, we crave control over our thoughts and actions, and we need that sense of security that comes from knowing that one thing will follow naturally from another in a familiar, predictable pattern. The epiphanic mode of experience proclaims the validity and importance of -- SURPRISE! The ability to accept surprising developments (and cherish them as gifts from God) is a powerful way to keep positive in a world in which most people dwell many hours a day on the negative. A friend of mine in L.A. used to say that a flat tire on the freeway was an invitation to experience life.
Epiphany and the aesthetic response are intimately linked. Another friend of mine likened the aesthetic response to walking in the woods and suddenly seeing a deer just inches from your hand. You may never see that deer again, but the memory of that surprise will leave an indelible impression on your mind and leave you open to being pleasantly surprised again.
The definitions given above mention epiphanic realizations coming "in a flash"; this is very much like what we have called, elsewhere, "the intuitive response". Intuitive re-centering of concepts, directed toward an end condition, bring into play pre-conscious mind states similar (or identical) to the pre-conscious mind states associated with the ancient memories of elves and fairies (including Santa Claus) which color the Christmas season. Once again, being prepared for the experience can only soften the blow SOMEWHAT--an epiphany, ready or not, will always come as a surprise, because shifting consciousness levels always results in an awakening. Epiphanies put us in contact with higher vibrational rungs on Jacob's ladder. Hence, it is very reasonable to associate an epiphany with a traumatic opening of the spiritual eyes, an enriching of the holistic experience of life.
We have talked a lot lately about pumping up the volume of our sensitivities to spiritual movement with the coming of the Christ Consciousness into the world. We have tried to prepare ourselves for the raising of consciousness through grace. Epiphany continues this spiritual evolution into an even higher level of wonder and exaltation by urging us to dwell on the unexpected blessings of Jesus's sacrifice in giving Himself to the world. It is not the coming that was unexpected, it was the depth of the experience we are given that is always a constant surprise. Accepting the newness of life at the dawn of the new year is kind of like the new wine poured into new skins.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"Epiphany, (Koine Greek: ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation", "striking appearance"or Theophany, (Ancient Greek (ἡ) Θεοφάνεια, Τheophaneia) meaning "vision of God", which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
Eastern Churches following the Julian Calendar observe the Theophany feast on January 19 because of the 13-day difference today between that calendar and the generally used Gregorian calendar. For Roman Catholics in many countries, the feast is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8. . . .
The observance had its origins in the Eastern Christian Churches and was a general celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It included the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi ("Wise Men", as Magi were Persian priests) to Bethlehem; all of Jesus's childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee. It seems fairly clear that the Baptism was the primary event being commemorated.
Western Christians have traditionally emphasized the "Revelation to the Gentiles" mentioned in Luke, where the term Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great (King of Judea), who sought to kill him. In this event, Christian writers also inferred a revelation to the Children of Israel. Saint John Chrysostom identified the significance of the meeting between the Magi and Herod's court: "The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all."
The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus St. Epiphanius says that January 6 is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ's "Birthday; that is, His Epiphany"). He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day.
In 385, the pilgrim Egeria (also known as Silvia) described a celebration in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which she called "Epiphany" (epiphania) that commemorated the Nativity of Christ. Even at this early date, there was an octave associated with the feast.
"Octave" has two senses in Christian liturgical usage. In the first sense, it is the eighth day after a feast, reckoning inclusively, and so always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. The word is derived from Latin octava (eighth), with dies (day) understood. The term is also applied to the whole period of these eight days, during which certain major feasts came to be observed.
Octaves are not to be confused with eight-day weeks: see Christian "eighth day".
In a sermon delivered on December 25, 380, St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to the day as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), saying expressly that it is a day commemorating he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ. Then, on January 6 and 7, he preached two more sermons, wherein he declared that the celebration of the birth of Christ and the visitation of the Magi had already taken place, and that they would now commemorate his Baptism. At this time, celebration of the two events was beginning to be observed on separate occasions, at least in Cappadocia.
Saint John Cassian says that even in his time (beginning of the 5th century), the Egyptian monasteries celebrated the Nativity and Baptism together on January 6. The Armenian Apostolic Church continues to celebrate January 6 as the only commemoration of the Nativity."
[Sidebar: We will come back to this in a moment. Keep in mind here, that it is being suggested that Jesus's actual birthday is January 6. I have never thought that such things were capable of precise dating anyway, and I really don't care that much about it--but there is a point coming that is of definite interest in a trivial kind of way. Back to Wikipedia]
"Epiphany in different Christian traditions
Epiphany is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Churches, but a major difference between them is precisely which events the feast commemorates. For Western Christians, the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi; Eastern churches celebrate the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. In both traditions, the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world (whether as an infant or in the Jordan), and the Mystery of the Incarnation.
Western Christian Churches
Even before the year 354, the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity of Christ as the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25; it reserved January 6 as a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ, especially to the Magi, but also at his baptism and at the wedding feast of Cana. Hungarians, in an apparent reference to baptism, refer to the January 6 celebration as Vízkereszt which term recalls the words "víz" as water, "kereszt, kereszt-ség" as baptism. In parts of the Eastern Church, January 6 continued for some time as a composite feast that included the Nativity of Jesus: though Constantinople adopted December 25 to commemorate Jesus' birth in the fourth century, in other parts the Nativity of Jesus continued to be celebrated on January 6, a date later devoted exclusively to commemorating his Baptism.
Liturgical practice in Western Churches
The West observes a twelve-day festival, starting on December 25, and ending on January 5, known as Christmastide or the Twelve Days of Christmas. Some Christian cultures, especially those of Latin America and some in Europe, extend the season to as many as forty days, ending on Candlemas (February 2).
On the Feast of the Epiphany, the priest, wearing white vestments, will bless the Epiphany water, frankincense, gold, and chalk. Chalk is used to write the initials of the three magi over the doors of churches and homes. The letters stand for the initials of the Magi (traditionally named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), and also the phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as "may Christ bless the house".
According to ancient custom, the priest announced the date of Easter on the feast of Epiphany. This tradition dated from a time when calendars were not readily available, and the church needed to publicize the date of Easter, since many celebrations of the liturgical year depend on it. The proclamation may be sung or proclaimed at the ambo by a deacon, cantor, or reader either after the reading of the Gospel or after the postcommunion prayer."
[Sidebar: Now back to this point about Jesus's birthday on January 6:]
"Christians fixed the date of the feast on January 6 quite early in their history. Ancient liturgies noted Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio (Illumination, Manifestation, Declaration); cf. Matthew 3:13–17; where the Baptism and the Marriage at Cana were dwelt upon.
1And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
2And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
3And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
4Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
5His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
6And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
[Sidebar: It is pretty well understood that these water pots "after the manner of purifying of the Jews" refers to these pots of garbage water they kept by the door for you use to clean your hands and feet before you entered the house. These pots were gross--I'm sure there was mud, and sand, and dead bugs, and all other kinds of filth floating in that water.]
"7Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
8And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
9When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
10And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
11This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."
This passage may be thought of as epiphanic because Jesus is revealing himself (against his will, but in obedience to His Mother) to the gentiles present at the feast, but this next passage is of more interest in terms of the January 6th idea:
"13Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
I have always loved this story, and, many years ago, I set it to music for my choir in Santa Cruz. The dove descending is a perfect image to objectify the coming of spirit into mundane reality. The "aha" moment felt by the onlookers at the river, must have been similar to the "aha" moment enjoyed by the Wise Men at the manger. However, it never occurred to me, until now, that Jesus might be choosing this particular day:
1. to reveal Himself to John as the Messiah, and
2. to consecrate the beginning of His ministry with a baptism,
BECAUSE IT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY.
I suggest this merely for the fun of it, and do not take it seriously, at all, but it seems not accidental that once again the birth, and the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles, are linked in spirit and, possibly, chronology.
An epiphany is a sacred thing and is to be treated with the utmost respect, but it should not be treated as a rarely visiting stranger--we should cultivate the epiphanic mind state in every moment of our lives, and find ways to send us there in a disciplined way as often as possible. Obviously, prayer is the primary vehicle Christians use to transport themselves to Heaven, but there are other ways. The key is mindfulness--REMEMBERING that the divine realm is spread out before us in infinity even though we are constantly distracted by earthly projects and problems.
For instance, I have a friend who is very interested in synchronicities. The overlapping of events, signs, and symbols is so common in life that once you start noticing them, they become commonplace--that is, you may have the experience of discovering synchronicities so often, it does not surprise you any more; that is the EVENT of discovery is not surprising--the epiphany itself is ALWAYS surprising because the advent of heavenly mind states always opens our eyes, and illuminates our experience OF ANYTHING.
Let us pray: Jesus, thanks again for the gift of Yourself. Thanks for choosing this insignificant moment of eternity in which to invest the ultimate meaning of life. Let us be mindful, in these days, that wash up on the shore of our attention, the aftermath of the Divine Birth, and let us discover, as a surprise, ONCE AGAIN, the spiritual riches that are still waiting there for us under the tree. Amen