Epiphany

–Thinking of a show in a different way

Anyone looking at a Christmas crib or Nativity Scene is immediately struck at the stark poverty, simplicity, and humility in which Baby Jesus was born. Wrapped in swaddling, lying in a manger in the middle of a desolate and gelid cave is certainly not the kind of setting fit for the Birth of the Divine. Apart from Mary, Joseph, and their donkey, a traditional crib is further decked with figures of shepherds, a few sheep, sometimes a cow or an ox and three dark-skinned kings; one with his head bowed, the other two kneeling.

The Good News was first announced to a group of poor shepherds who hurried to that particular spot in Bethlehem to pay homage to who they believed was the Messiah. Eventually,  three men appear on the scene. In total contrast to the shepherds, they are magi or philosopher-kings from the East; and they offer extremely expensive gifts gold, frankincense, and myrrh as they too pay homage. They must have been well wrapped up in fine clothing to beat the winter cold and the story goes that they had also been travelling for a long time guided by a star to find a baby they were told would be the King of the Jews.

Christians have just celebrated Christmas, and today,  January 6, marks the Feast of the Epiphany, a feast that spotlights the Three Kings from the East symbolizing the revelation of Jesus to the whole world. It is the feast which brings the Christmas period to a close.

When I was a schoolgirl, January 6 was still a public holiday which meant three full weeks of holidays. Somewhere along the way, political developments axed this holiday,  so we went back to school earlier. As budding teenagers, we were more upset about curtailed holidays than anything else. As I look back, it always strikes me that despite having attended a Catholic nuns’ school (which meant two religion lessons a day) the imparting of religion was a tedious affair in which we were compelled to learn reams by rote. Attending Mass was no better. Even then it bothered me that there was little effort to fire enthusiasm and debate about our Faith to render it truly meaningful. It did not take long for us to listen in bored silence and merely deliver what was expected in assignments and examinations. Perhaps the nuns did not know any better, but those religion lessons were a guarantee to turn you agnostic or atheist and have a spiritual torpor grip you for life unless you did something about it.

It was many, many years later that the significance of the Epiphany struck home and went beyond the singing and swaying of ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’. And this was when I discovered T.S. Eliot’s poem aptly entitled ‘Journey of the Magi’. Despite, his typical plunge into countless allusions, Eliot who wrote this poem in 1927, the year of his conversion to Catholicism,  makes no reference to the Christian Feast of the Epiphany. There is no mention of the three gifts symbolizing kingship, deity, and death, the guiding star or Jesus. Nor does he portray the travelers as magi ecstatic to have found the messiah after a long, arduous and perilous journey.

Despite putting the historical events on the back burner, ironically,  Eliot fully immerses his readers into the true meaning of the Epiphany, a Greek word that means a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization, and for Christians, the manifestation of Christ.

What Eliot does is create a metaphorical poem, representing both birth and death, renewal and spiritual rebirth to highlight the process, the inner and outer journeys that we need to undertake if we want to experience spiritual rebirth. The theme of change demands the death of the ‘old dispensation’ to generate the birth of the new one.  Hard and chilling, the process of renewal is clearly not for the faint-hearted and Eliot uncannily posits the impact of a spiritual awakening on both the individual and society so that the journey is both one of the individual and collective psyche through history that goes beyond embracing Christian beliefs.

Being a dramatic monologue, Eliot builds on the structure’s thrilling power by uncannily interweaving the voice of one of the magi as the pilgrim who narrates his own psycho-spiritual journey with that of an esoteric, religious teacher. The impact of this journey leaves the narrator reeling in the shock waves of a life that is forever changed, a life that leaves him alienated from all those around him.

Almost a century on, feelings of alienation and angst are even more relevant. How many of us are seeking a spiritual light? How many of us are willing to admit that there is a greater being that puts our megalomaniac narcissism to shame? How many of us give a thought to the thee kings whose whims must have been commands and yet bow and kneel in all humility as they offer their gifts to an utterly destitute baby? How many of us ponder on what they truly felt as they gazed upon that nativity scene which changed their lives forever by experiencing something extraordinary when looking upon the ordinary?

Above all, what does it actually take to experience an epiphany that brings about a spiritual awakening?

Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.
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Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

Thank you Noemi for this heartfelt article on a Feast that is remarkable in so many ways. The word Epiphany comes from the Greek as so many other words do and it means maifestation, the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ. The celebration is so often just a passing thought through actions of, yet “Every Knee Shall Bow at the Name of Jesus”. Thank you for this post.

BIZCATALYST 360°

A remarkable celebration of Epiphany in Tarpon Springs today and every year, bringing together this amazing Greek community along with visitors from across Tampa Bay: https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2020/01/06/the-50-year-story-behind-tarpon-springs-coveted-epiphany-cross/

Manuela Giffoni Harashima
Manuela Giffoni Harashima

Hi, dear Noemi, and thank you for your excellent article !

There are many things which could be said about this heartfelt text but what I like most is the question you ask yourself at the end and which holds the keys for a real spiritual rebirth : “above all, what does it actually take to experience an epiphany that brings about a spiritual awakening” ????

That’s the real point !

Mike Pitocco

Thanks for sharing this Noemi. I agree with Manuela; the way you conclude with the question is most intriguing. What does it take to experience an epiphany that brings about a spiritual awakening? I believe the answer is different for each of us, and that each and every person at some point in life makes a decision regarding the reality of God. For me, it came as a result of knowing deep down there had to be more to life than accumulating possessions, acquiring financial wealth, taking vacations and living for retirement……something eternal. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Bible says God has placed eternity in all of our hearts; that’s what I was experiencing. It wasn’t long after that I began my search and found my answer in Christ. Great article!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thank you Noemi, I always enjoy reading your post. I too grew up Catholic, but fortunately I broke away from it, and all organized religions due to years of research, and seeking out the truth about them all.
Here is a link, perhaps this will give clarity to you and all that are open to the truth, which for me is vital in this world that we are living in.This video is one of many that clarify the myth of the Christian holiday.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year

Claudio Viassone
Claudio Viassone

Il brano di San Paolo in Fil 2,6-11, in cui è presente la citazione fatta prima da Lynn Forrester-Pitocco, mi ha colpito dal momento in cui l’ho letto per la prima volta, quando avevo circa venticinque anni, rimanendomi tutt’ora presente.
Anch’io mi trovo in accordo con Manuela e Mike…Per me il fatto stesso che ci si ponga questa specifica domanda non è apatia, non è indifferenza… è già di per sé essere partecipe in qualche modo … È già interesse acceso… È anelare all’Amore di Dio, manifestazione in Gesù, nonostante me stesso…
Grazie Noemi

Aldo Delli Paoli

Magnificent article Noemi.
I believe that, like the Magi, every person is in search of God, even when, apparently, they show themselves to be distracted, indifferent and distant. The man of today in this restless postmodernity, of consumerism, of globalization, the man in many ways also distracted by a plurality of messages (think of the conditioning that the Web implies today on the human psyche, especially of young people), this man, deep in the heart, is nostalgic for a God who illuminates and gives meaning to his days.
Thanks for everything you inspired.

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