“Said the night wind to the little lamb…” On this Epiphany weekend (the real date, we all know, is Monday the 6th: the end of the “12 Days of Christmas”), it is a good question for us to ask ourselves. The word “epiphany” comes to us from the Greek, and it means a revelation or manifestation. Three things were traditionally celebrated on this day (now separated on different Sundays)—Jesus’ being revealed to the Magi, His being revealed at the Jordan River during His baptism, with the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father; and the beginning of His public ministry with the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. The Liturgy of the Hours preserves this combination especially in the antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus) in Morning Prayer:
“Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”
But these tidbits are really a sideline for us—interesting, informative, but not terribly helpful either as challenge or encouragement. We need more.
What do we see? Are the eyes of our heart open to see salvation announced by a star, or to see a redeemer in a child? Seeing, as we know, is not always believing. The Gospel from the Feast of St John the Apostle (27 December) told us that Peter and the Beloved Disciple both ran to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty; Peter went away confused, but the Beloved Disciple “saw and believed.” What was the difference? It was surely not what was seen, but with what—with the eyes of faith. This is a great mystery: what you see is not (only) what you get! So look deeper, or (to quote a hymn by the Dameans): look beyond. William Blake put it so well in his poem “Auguries of Innocence”:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour.
Jesus reminded us of the difference, after healing the man born blind (John 9). When the Pharisees reject Jesus and insist they are not blind, Jesus responds, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
All this leads us to the Eucharist and the question what do we see? What do we perceive? What (and Whom) do we love? In fact, when we approach the altar, we are preparing to “hold Infinity in the palm of [our] hand”!
Why is all this so allusive and not descriptive? I think the answer is that God is not a scientist but an artist; not a logician or a lecturer but first and foremost a poet. And if we are made in the image and likeness of God, that means we should also try to engage the world poetically, with special vision. Do we (can we) see what God sees?