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.