If you walk down Second Avenue and turn left on Broadway, you can walk within a block from where the bomb devastated our city on Christmas morning. From the border chain-link fence you can see the rubble; you can smell the ash. You can look at the boarded windows with these folksy-painted signs about peace and love. You can see the street lamps, still holding remnants of bombed-Christmas ribbons; you can see the walls with gaping holes from the impact. You can see the dark signs that were so brightly lit they looked like sirens calling to tourists. Now they feel like dreary omens speaking to us about the fragility of peace. You can stand on the edge of rubble and feel what Epiphany is all about.
This is the season of Epiphany in the Christian faith. We are celebrating for the next few weeks in which we gaze through a lens to see the holy. We look to find the divine in our world and in our lives.
In the Christian tradition there is not one epiphany that we celebrate. It is many moments and events that point to the divine. In our tradition, it begins with the wise men; then it goes on to the baptism of Jesus; and then it goes on to the wedding in Cana, the revelation that Jesus could perform miracles; and at the very end of the season, the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain dressed in dazzling white.
Epiphanies are the aha moments as we gaze through a lens like a dove, or a cup of wine, or sunlight on a mountain.
The gospels are full of epiphanies. Like the epiphany when the woman poured oil over Jesus’ feet. Everyone saw what real forgiveness and mercy looked like. How about the epiphany of the kiss in the garden? That was a hard one, revealing what loss, and betrayal, and brokenness look like. The epiphany of the cross—a symbol of death becoming a crowning moment of love. We should keep looking so that we don’t miss the star, the sunlight, the cup, and the rubble to find something holy and beautiful.
I would like to offer a lens for our community for this season. The lens that I would like us to use is remnant. You are invited to look through remnant and see what transformation and divine nature we can find. You know what remnant means. The leftovers. It is the rubble of our buildings in downtown Nashville. It is post trauma for all the people in the communities that we serve in this city. It is the wreckage we have from tornadoes, bombs, fires, surging violence and the insurrection. It is the wake of a pandemic. It is the end of the cloth, the last bit. I believe our work in this season of Epiphany is not to turn away from the hard things, but to look into them, to see them, to let it sink into us. To see where we find God in all of it.
Epiphanic lenses can be anything. I remember the very first retreat I led at St. Mary’s in Sewanee, Tennessee. I went to bed that night nervous about leading a spiritual retreat. I had a dream about a nun who had died and used to lead the retreats, visiting me in my dream, sitting down by my bed, picking up a spoon and saying, “You can meditate on the spoon.” And I was at peace. Yes, there is so much to see in a spoon, there is so much in all of what is around us, but we need a way to look.
Epiphanies come to individuals. Your epiphany is not my epiphany. But if we can share a lens, we can illuminate a community. We all know that community is the oldest entity for healing this world has known. And the idea to share individual insights from a common lens to illuminate us all is part of the epiphany practice. You don’t hide the light under the bushel, we let it shine.
We need tools to help us focus. How we focus our lens has been documented in scripture and in history, by seekers, prophets, and poets.
Here is how I understand we can focus the lens of remnant:
First, stay with it. Each of us has to stay looking through the lens long enough with discipline and meditation to see what blurry images emerge in the glass.
Second, retreat with the lens. Take the lens of remnant to the woods, carry it to a quiet space and whisper it as you drift off into that space of dreams. It is there that the blurry images gain some clarity.
Third, pray for a sign and keep going. Don’t let the idea of epiphany stop you as you think, “Unless I get this amazing, clear vision, I can’t do anything.” Pray for a sign and you keep doing the work. Epiphanies come also in the work and in the struggle as well.
Fourth, accept gift the epiphany offers you. You can’t return it. They are usually hard to accept. They demand us to change and it comes with a cost.
Finally, use the gift you are given to bring light for love’s sake.
Thistle Farms this year is going to be on the idea of remnants as well. The community is creating blankets, reflections, and a book with poetry, prose and photographs. Over the next few months, let’s all lean into this idea of remnants and see what transformations and insights come. I know I need it. After this year, this week, I need your vision and you need mine for us to keep loving the world again and again until we get it right.
Isaiah the prophet says that we are the remnant. We are the people pieced together like bits of leftover fabric or like our ancestors in exile. Yet, we are still bound to love. We still are the peacemakers, we still are the justice lovers, the healers, the caregivers. We still are the writers and poets of our age, the prophets and singers, the dreamers and the seekers. I am so grateful we are the remnant, we are the beloved, we are the searchers.
Let us have the courage to stand before the rubble in our city, in our nation, in the world and see how we are still bound to love.
Peace and love,
— Becca Stevens
Photo Credit: Melissa Riley, taken on the Christmas morning bombing of Nashville, 2020.