Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany and Incarnation

Today is Epiphany. I've always thought it was a lovely word for a terribly important concept. Where would we be without those little burst of light in our brain - be they enlightment or supernovas? Arriving at an intellectual or emotional epiphany feels as satisfying as really dark chocolate or really good sex.

But it's funny, I don't use the word much in its original, spiritual sense. My best understanding is that the holiday got its name from the Three Wise Men's realization that Baby Jesus was actually divine: God incarnate.

Now, I'm not a particularly good Christian. I was raised in the United Church of Christ and a very liberal Presbyterian congregation. I've said before that I can probably best be described as a hopeful agnostic. But if I'm not so hot at believing in a theistic religion, I warm up better to pantheism.

I don't believe we're just animate clay. I feel a lot of awe at the world around me. I find it easy to believe that there are divine elements in the world: in nature, in human beings. That's where, on a much less literal level, I think the idea of Christ's Incarnation is extremely moving and maybe even, well, enlightening. If you understand the incarnation as meaning that there's something divine within all of us (as my yoga teachers said, back when I went to yoga), then the birth of Jesus is a beautiful allegory for the potential we all bear.

Of course, if we all carry a spark of the divine, that's both a gift and a burden. Or rather, I guess it's the sort of gift that implies all sorts of responsibilities.

Even if I've totally warped Christian teaching to suit my own muddled purposes, I do love the idea of a holiday devoted to enlightenment: intellectual, emotional, spiritual.

And so: Happy Epiphany, dear readers. May we all be blessed with starbursts of light in the year ahead.

Yes, my tree's still up, though the gifts are long opened and their contents now clutter the living room. And yes, it took up about a quarter of the floor space in our living room. All the decent cut-yourself trees were oddly triangular and very squat at the base. And yes, that's a small auxiliary tree growing out of it to the right. I wouldn't let anyone chop it off, absurd though it is.

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