With Christmas finally over, Many Christians around the world will soon be celebrating the Feast of The Epiphany — sometimes called Twelfth Night, since it occurs 12 days after Christmas. This observance commemorates early events in the life of Jesus. Traditionally the Western church has emphasized the Magi’s visit while the Eastern church focuses on Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Epiphany takes place on January 6 and dates as far back as 361 AD.
In Greek the word means” “appearance” or “manifestation” and the main theme, is the sudden revelation or “shining forth” of an important, life-changing, truth. The story of the wise men has always been a favorite of mine, maybe because of the way it integrates divergent elements like science and religion, innocence and experience, and the parochial and the universal or maybe it’s just because it’s the origin of Christmas gifts. Although the Bible provides few details, tradition holds that there were three wise men named Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. No one knows the real number, but we assume there were three, based on the number of gifts. The wise men are sometimes called “Three Kings” because of some scriptural references and the expense of their gifts. Admirably the Magi are usually portrayed as a racially and culturally diverse group and I especially like how they were not deceived by the evil King Herod. The subsequent massacre of the children of Bethlehem established Herod as a villain for the ages- someone, who, as Eddie Murphy once said, wants to go to Hell and not have to stand in line.
The wise men had their epiphany seeing the Christ Child in person, but what about the rest of us? Have you ever had a sudden realization that changed your life in some fundamental way? Epiphanies are an important aspect of many major life changes. Deciding to end or commit to a relationship, making vocation choices, and even choosing to enter recovery are all often preceded by some sort of epiphany. Armed with data from in-depth interviews and surveys, psychology professor William Miller from the University of New Mexico and co-author Janet C’de Baca, explore this issue in their book “Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives.” Miller defined” quantum change” as a vivid, surprising, benevolent, and enduring personal transformation, that usually occurs over a short time ranging from several minutes to several days. Miller says that after such changes many people reported giving spirituality a more central place in their lives. Surprisingly most people were not overtly seeking such radical changes. According to Miller’s research there are five distinctive features of quantum change experiences:
1. Typically change occurred at a point of desperation, where something had to give-the so called “tipping point”.
2. The majority of people who experience these changes were not in obvious pain and change came into their lives seemingly uninvited. Others have found that such transformations are often proceeded by periods of inactivity when the process of change seems to be unknowingly “brewing”.
3. Personal growth accompanied the transformation. Discord and conflict were often replaced with acceptance and tranquility.
4. Many people who changed had previously suffered trauma or emotional distress, which somehow may have helped prepare them for change.
5. Most people interpreted their change as something “sacred” that had happened to them, although not all put it in a religious context.
According to Miller many reported the experience of “being in the flow of something larger than themselves.” Other researchers have noted that major breakthroughs typically occur when the individual is engaged in conversation with another person. This is not surprising since many sociologists believe that verbal interaction is the matrix for the creation of new knowledge. Sudden insight also appears to have a biological basis. Using sophisticated scanning devices, neuro-researchers John Kounios of Drexel University and Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern discovered that there consistently was activity in the right temporal part of the brain, just before people reported flashes of insight when solving puzzles. Subjects who had sudden insights showed this increased brain activity before they even saw the problem, suggesting they were already prepared for a sudden revelation.
Psychologist Jonathan Schooler found that people have more trouble getting insights when they try to logically solve a problem. Thinking in the usual manner seems to interfere and Kounios concludes that insight comes more easily when people don’t try so hard. While quantum changes and major breakthrough experiences are dramatic, they are also relatively infrequent. Many of us, however have had more subtle versions of these experiences. Thee everyday epiphanies are more like finding the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle that finally lets us see the whole picture. Frequently such information is right in front of us and begs for our attention, but our history, prejudices, and fears blind us. Such opportunities are not unseen, but simply unnoticed. Around the world people are documenting both their major and everyday epiphanies in on-line diaries or blogs.
Surfing through the blogosphere I found the following descriptions.
A Dozen Epiphanies
1. I had an epiphany that morning that led to a conscious decision to keep my trap shut.
2. I had an epiphany that my Ph.D. was a useless abstraction piled on top of other useless abstractions.
3. I had an epiphany that what I was eating could actually have been making me sick.
4. I came to the realization that my behavior was steering my life in a bad direction and that I needed to change before it all came crashing down.
5. I came to the realization that I was in far over my head.
6. I came to the realization that I needed help.
7. I came to the realization that I was afraid of everything.
8. I came to the realization that the majority of my existence was devoted to satisfying the needs of the corporate bureaucracy.
9. I came to the realization that my child was all grown up.
10. I came to the realization that I am spending too much time on the Internet.
11. I came to the realization that I should not buy a new car this year.
12. I had an epiphany that I looked exactly like my dad when he was my age, which was shocking.
While many of these seem as if they should have been obvious, often it takes us a long time and some perspective to identify the patterns in our own lives. Don’t be discouraged, just relax and maybe you can start the new year with your own personal epiphany.
From a column orginally appearing in the Southen Indiana News Tribune.