Epiphany: stories of awakening


By Kathy Berken

If you live in Colorado on Epiphany, you might toss fruitcakes. In Russia, you might dive into a hole in the ice shaped like a cross. In Puerto Rico, you might put a basket of hay under your children’s beds and wait for the camels to eat the hay and the magi to leave gifts.



If you are like me, an American of German descent from Wisconsin, Epiphany was the day we finally put the three kings, their servants and camels by the Nativity set. The day after, the kings, camels and servants would go back into the attic. It was bittersweet. I had one day to experience the whole of the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem to witness first-hand that this baby who lay in swaddling clothes in a manger, with Mary and Joseph, was really and truly the Son of God.

As a result, Epiphany was rather magical. As Sister Joyce Rupp explains in her insightful book, “The Star in My Heart” (Ave Maria Press 2010, reissue), the Magi followed the star to Bethlehem at night. She says that their journey is similar to her own, that in seeking God, she goes “mostly in the night, not being sure of the direction, or of what this God will look like, or where the journey will take me.”

When I read that, I had an epiphany. Following my intuition, my soul’s longing for God, I also find myself starting out in the dark night. No GPS, no digital compass on my rearview mirror, no Google map directions. Only the light over my head to guide me. I don’t mean the bright star in the sky. I mean the light bulb you see in the drawings of a person who finally gets it. It’s the moment of awareness when something dawns on me. The ah-ha experience. James Joyce’s characters in “Dubliners” have epiphany-like moments where they experience self-understanding or illumination. Virginia Woolf calls these “moments of being” which are burned into a person’s psyche.


When you read Matthew 2:1-12 — the only place in Scripture where the story of the Magi is told — consider the different epiphanies written into these 12 verses. It dawned on Herod that the astrologers could find the newborn King of the Jews for him. The Magi were awakened by a dream telling them of Herod’s evil intentions. Are there other epiphanies in the story?

Epiphanies are not just for the Twelfth Night, not just for religious feasts and a chance to sing “We Three Kings,” not just for setting kings, camels and servants into our nativity sets. We have epiphanies all the time. In her book, “Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform” (Harmony 2011), actor, filmmaker and producer Elise Ballard  gives us four elements of an epiphany: listening, belief, action and serendipity.

I expanded this to listening/attentiveness, belief/

faith, action/learning, and serendipity/“God-incidence.” When we tell stories of an event that cause a sudden revelation — or as Ballard says, “an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking” — we share an epiphany. These moments teach us about our deepest selves.

Epiphanies happen when we listen with our whole body, believe to our core that what we have experienced is real, learn something about ourselves, and trust that this was more than mere coincidence.

The star you follow will lead you in the night, to a place of amazement and wonder, to the unexpected realization that something divine has occurred. Be grateful for this. Pay attention to these holy moments. Set them into your spiritual nativity set, and keep them in sight all year round.

(Kathy Berken recently received a Master’s in Theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton (1999-2009) and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch)”.)

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