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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Epiphany Moments

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(This is the first of four reflections from a group of us, based on our recent visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky over the weekend. Over the course of the next few weeks, others will share their insights and revelations, poems and epiphanies emergent from this adventure.)

“Well, I should probably write something” was what I said to myself this past weekend as I sat in the library of the Abbey of Gethsemane, journal open in front of me. “And it should probably be meaningful, profound, or life-changing.” I was, after all, on retreat: On retreat with five other people in a monastic environment that championed silence, almost demanding contemplation and spiritual formation. If I couldn’t come up with something meaningful, profound, or life-changing here, I probably didn’t have much of a chance anywhere. I was waiting for a moment —the moment when my search would end, purpose became clear, and I “succeeded” at the exercise of “retreating.” Literary minds call this an “epiphany moment.” Come to think of it, spiritual minds do, too.

Writers have to handle epiphany moments with the greatest care. Characters need to go through transformation, but that transformation has to be believable, needing to be embedded throughout the entire story. If a character hates his father for the first 180 pages of a book and suddenly decides he loves him on Page 181, not only is it not believable or sincere, we think the entire action specifically insincere.

I like to believe God knows this, too. And when we suddenly have singular moments of extreme spiritual shifts and revelation (which we often look for on things like retreats), those moments beg the same questions of longevity, believability and insincerity that all of those Page 181 epiphany moments do: “Where did this come from?” “How am I supposed to believe that?”



This principle illustrated why our epiphany moments, like those of our believable literary characters, are actually epiphany journeys. Waiting on that singular moment to define your experience will find you waiting forever, because it couldn’t possibly do it. You need to go 10 mph before you can go 20 mph, but neither is more important than the other; they’re just two different steps on the same path. Any commitment you make now has to be renewed constantly for it to endure. If that commitment only remains in the present moment alone, it’s worthless — at least as far as epiphanies go.

With that in mind, I got down to “retreating,” with an increased interest in not waiting, or even searching, for that affirming moment when all of my doubts and questions were erased, or my “reason” for being on the retreat was revealed. Instead, my focus became to experience that part of my journey, and recognize that whatever I found there was just a paragraph of my lifelong story. Our God is an adept author, and knows what needs to be embedded along the way, so that when we get to Page 181, that epiphany moment is as natural as the person experiencing it. And it needs to be, because we don’t get a chance to rewrite the story if it’s not.

[Adam Quine, Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Lincoln]


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