And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
In the midst of the world’s uncertainties and our own personal challenges, whatever they may be, we enter the Christian season of Epiphany. Broadly speaking, “epiphany” describes the experience of being surprised by a sudden insight that brings clarity to something that we’ve been struggling with or previously could not understand. In Christianity, the season of Epiphany–8 weeks long this year–places before us, Sunday after Sunday, stories of revelation and spiritual awakening. Epiphany begins with a star to guide our path, and then in the Gospel reading for this Sunday, we hear the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism.
The voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus as God’s Beloved Son encourages us to place our trust in Jesus and to draw closer to him as saviour and friend. But Jesus also wants us to know that we, too, are God’s beloved children, each with particular paths to walk and unique purposes in life. And that we, too, can experience epiphany–that wonderful gift of insight and clarity to illumine our path.
There are few things more precious to me than clarity–when I can see the way ahead, or know what to do, or have sufficient light to take even one step forward with confidence. As bishop, I feel a particular responsibility to lead with as much clarity as I am given. Yet clarity does not come easily for me, without considerable struggle, both internally and in community. I continue to be humbled by the process of seeking sufficient clarity. It requires me to pray, listen deeply, learn from my mistakes and failures, and pay attention to those light-bearers whose spiritual vitality, fruitfulness, and clarity of vision inspire us all.
I wish there were a way to receive clarity without the preceding struggle, but that doesn’t seem to be how the process works. Author Brené Brown describes this as “the middle space,” the unavoidable uncertainty, vulnerability and discomfort of any creative process. “You’re in the dark,” she writes in “Rising Strong,” “the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to see the light….Experience and past success doesn’t give you an easy passage through the middle space of struggle. They only grant you a little grace that whispers, ‘This is part of the process. Stay the course.’”
Sometimes staying the course requires us to take the next step without clarity, which may require the most courage of all. That’s what walking by faith and not by sight feels like–when all we have is our desire to be faithful and the assurance that no matter what we do or fail to do, Jesus is there with grace sufficient for the day.
May we all be of good courage and kind to one another as we make our way, as a poet once said, by walking it. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and I will do the same. Our epiphanies come in God’s time and we will be ready to receive them in proportion to our faithfulness in the middle space. “The middle space is messy,” Brown reminds us, “but it’s also where the magic happens.”