An Appearance of the Divine

I fumble for the words. I grasp at metaphors and seek after similes. But my language is never adequate; there is always more that must be said and that cannot be said. So I watch, and listen, and touch when possible, the experiences of others who have seen God. It is the most precious part of what I do.

I am not talking about the trivial quest for finding theophanic revelations in the clouds, on the smeared dirt of a windshield, or in the aberrational shape of a Rice Krispy. The world does not need a single other manifestation of the Blessed Virgin on the side of a tree. I am talking about those moments when someone sits with their mouth open, their eyes wet with wonder, and their hands grabbing for some means of sharing an experience they have had with something much larger than themselves.

Andy, an oil field roustabout, tells me in words wholly inadequate to the vision he’s had, about suddenly feeling pain one day as drill bits tore holes into the earth: “I just stood there: it was the first time I saw that everything in this world comes out of the earth, like it was giving birth almost, all the time. Does that sound crazy?”

Marla, an 85 year old invalid widow: “I woke up and the room was vibrating. There was no difference between me and the walls and the sheets. I couldn’t tell where they ended and I began. I just laid there and let it happen and I haven’t been the same since. I don’t know what it was.”

Ed, a 75 year old retired lawyer: “I was only 5 when my grandpa died. I was crying and so I went and got under my bed. And someone was there with me, and I’ve never told anyone this- not even my wife, but I felt loved that day in a way that I have I have never felt since then but have never forgotten, either. I think that time under the bed when I was 5 made me who I am and I don’t even know what it was, really.”

I said that these people- I believe- had “seen” God. It doesn’t matter to me whether one can force their experiences into an “approved” and traditional category of epiphanal experiences, based on a chapter and verse of a particular sacred book. I’m guessing that the epiphanies experienced by Moses, Mary, and Peter- for instance- were first shared in the same kind of grasping, open-mouthed ways that the ones above were shared. The problem with reducing any experience to words, though, it that it then remains forever reduced.

There is no word more inadequate, in fact, than the word God itself.

Moses said God could only be seen after God had passed by and that is true. Real sense of epiphanies (and there is always sense to be made) can only come with contemplation.

In every case I know of- biblical, personal, and those of others- the person experiencing an epiphany has their awareness of the divine enlarged. They experience God where they have not experienced God before, and usually with increasing frequency and sensitivity.

Andy has not been able to handle his vision of the earth being hurt very well at all. It has now become a part of the heightened sensibilities which causes Andy and many alcoholics to try to manage the onslaught of emotions they experience by “dulling them down.” I can urge and encourage, and I have, but sometimes sadness is simply overwhelming.

Marla and Ed have both died now. They used the revelations they had had to understand, reach out constantly, and enfold unto themselves that which they knew– beyond all shadow of doubt- to be beloved. Their homes were jungles of potted plants and rooting twigs. They were highly social, and not merely in chit-chat ways. They attracted people. People felt safe with them, loved by them, and important to them. And, indeed, they were.

I know I have only opened the door a little here. And that’s all I will be able to open it. There are no adequate words. But, hopefully, there is some Light shining through. Grab whatever of it these words allow you to, and make it your own.

5 thoughts on “Epiphany

  1. Nice.

    I’m a tea drinker. Was. Am. Sorta. But in the press rooms and the hustle of Washington, coffee would have to do. Odd chest pain, like an ice pick, definitely not a heart attack for a young guy. The physician went over everything, and then we got down to diet. “How many cups of coffee a day.”

    I was the press guy for a Utah representative. They were (are) all Mormons, as were their staffs, and I had a coffee pot for the reporters. It worked great — except for the woman who also covered Louisiana, and would take me to Bennett Johnston’s office for “real coffee.” They all stopped by to see me, every day. It was devious, but it made my job so much easier.

    “Probably four cups,” I said.

    “Okay, here’s the thing: Chart how much coffee you drink in a day. Note how many ounces in each cup. If you’re using a 12 ounce mug, that might explain it.”

    No problem. I put a clipboard next to the coffee maker and made hash marks — they were all 6 ounce cups, except for my two cups of Morning Thunder before I got to the office.

    First day: 20 cups
    Second day: 22 cups
    Third day: More chest pain late in the afternoon.

    Back in the doctor’s office he looked over my hashmarks and gave that low kind of whistle you don’t want to hear from your mechanic under your car.

    “Mitral valve prolapse is what I thought I heard,” he said. “You have a valve that has a ragged edge. No serious problem, about 20 percent of people have it. Strep likes to live there, so when you go to the dentist, let her know and she’ll give you prophylactic penicillin.

    “And, cut back on coffee. The journals say people who drink coffee heavily get stabbing chest pains with mitral valve prolapse — four cups a day is high, six cups is heavy. You’re a heavy coffee drinker for the next five years if you quit cold turkey today.”

    I cut back. And three years later, after I woke late with a caffeine headache because I didn’t get coffee early enough in the day, I quit. Three days of hell. Six months I stayed off coffee and almost all caffeine.

    But I love the stuff. I love the flavor, I love the smell, I love the brewing. About every three months I lay off a day, just to sure I’m not wholly addicted to the caffeine.

  2. This is great! And, I’m afraid that 22 cups (!) is not beyond possibility in my case either. That’s my problem- I love everything about it! (classic addict) Everything EXCEPT flavoring of any sort- why anyone would want hazlenut in their coffee is something I can’t fathom..

    But, I know I must change and you give me hope in being able to do so..thanks!!

  3. We’re still in the wrong thread . . .

    But, as my wife pointed out to me shortly after we were married, people often use coffee at the wrong time. She’s big on drinking water. When I’d start to doze in mid-afternoon, I’d make more coffee. She suggested I drink a glass of water instead. It worked well. I had the Library of Congress track down some journal articles. It turns out that we get drowsy when we are dehydrated. Coffee, of course, is a diuretic, so it exacerbates dehydration.

    Anyway, to make a long story shorter, I found that increasing water consumption reduced my cravings for coffee. I now make it a practice to drink a good 8 ounces of water before my first coffee in the morning, and before every cup in the afternoon. It makes reducing coffee a lot, lot easier.

    Hazelnut? The problem is that they usually put it in thick, which makes the coffee bitter until you add a lot of sugar. The trick is to use a lot less flavoring, and a lot less sugar. I find it works best if I reduce it to once or twice a year.

  4. Your plan is being implemented this morning..Thanks! The false cycle of drowsiness, dehydration makes perfect sense..

    What got me into the stress tests I was referring to was an incident about a month ago when I had been outside (very hot) trimming bushes. I came back in, sat down, and got a terrible pain in my left arm andit spread to my back. I got up and told my wife to call 911. The next thing I remembered was waking up, feeling great, and being surrounded by EMTs.

    Nothing wrong, heart-wise, has shown up. But I almost certainly was dehydrated, and been pouring coffee, as usual, on that problem all day.

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