Summary: In silence we can listen to God and must if we are to experience a life-changing epiphany.
The O-my-God Moment
January 10, 2010
I’m not a big fan of reality TV. I don’t really know who Simon Cowell is and generally think that the Oprahization of entertainment has been a move in the wrong direction. But I do catch a couple of moments each week of that show where they blow up houses and build new ones. The one that is exactly the same every time starts up with the formulaic moving of a bus and then the new homeowners’ eyes get all big and they say in unison, “O-my-God.” Some of them say “omigosh” but the meaning is the same. It’s an Epiphany, a physical manifestation of the enormity of someone’s love for them.
Now the phrase “O my God” has been trivialized, texted and twittered down into what amounts to blasphemous profanity in many cases. When someone realizes he or she has that habit and asks me for advice on how to break it, I suggest that when they catch themselves misusing the Lord’s name like that, especially when they say “Jesus Christ,” they can turn it into a prayer by adding words like “have mercy” or “give me strength.” But the real issue here is that there are moments in life in which the love of another is so strongly apparent that our minds and hearts turn instinctively to a power not in ourselves, a reality that transcends the humdrumness of our daily life. An O-my-God moment.
The Church gives us three such moments in the life of Jesus that she celebrates in this Epiphany season. The first is last week’s feast of the Magi. The second is today’s celebration of the Lord’s Baptism. And the third is the wedding feast at Cana–the Lord’s first miracle and the beginning of the road to Calvary.
Today’s O-my-God moment begins with John the Baptist. Called from before his birth by God, John seems to have been taught about repentance and cleansing oneself for worship by baptism by the ascetic cult of Essenes. Day by day he preaches repentance and getting ready for the coming of God, and he baptizes those who want that renewal as they walk down into the ankle or knee-deep waters of the Jordan and accept the bath poured over their heads. They leave prepared to renounce their habits of extortion or abuse of themselves or others.
And then the unthinkable happens. John sees his distant cousin Yeshua–we call Him Iesus or Jesus–in the baptism line. John knows the history. His mother had told him that in his sixth month of life, when cousin Mary visited, carrying the two-week old tiny two millimeter Jesus in her womb, John sensed the holiness of Mary and Jesus and did a half-gainer inside mom. John knows that Jesus is mightier than anyone else, that He is the son of righteousness, definitely not a repentant sinner. When they meet, face-to-face, he tells his cousin, “Look, you ought to be baptizing me.” And Jesus transforms the meaning of baptism by saying, “this is how we are going to fulfill all righteousness.” So John lifted the gourd full of water and began to pour it over Jesus’ head.
Then came the sound, and the dove. It lasted but a moment. It was confusing to some of the onlookers. A few thought it to be thunder from the cloudy sky, even though the sun had broken through to shine directly on the pair of men. But Jesus and John heard the words distinctly–Thou art my beloved son; I am well pleased with thee. John and his disciples didn’t know what it all meant, but they knew that what they had witnessed would change everything. It reminded them of Noah’s dove and the end of the destructive flood, of the voice of God on Moses’s mountain, and of the original Yeshua–Joshua–who crossed the Jordan at that very spot and began the transformation of Palestine into Holy Land. Little John rushed up to the newly-baptized Jesus and–flustered–asked where are you staying? Jesus simply said, come and see.
Epiphanies don’t come every day, but they do come. James Lowell wrote in 1845: Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.
But in this communication with God, this prayer of listening for the quiet divine voice, the precondition is a silent mind, a quiet heart, an openness to the Word. The monks of old found that time in their work. As they labored with their hands, doing work they had done for years, their minds and hearts could be attentive to God. Chant in the church; listen in the garden.