Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Note on the Word Epiphany

In common parlance an epiphany is an aha moment -- a sudden, intuitive realization about something. That meaning is not unrelated to the meaning of epiphany in a Christian setting. Of course, those who follow the Christian calendar know of the Feast of Epiphany. Usually this marks the coming of the magi to see Jesus marking the "manifestation" of Jesus to the nations.

Manifestation is a good synonym of the Christian use of epiphany. An epiphany is a kind of unveiling or opening into a deeper reality. One image that helps me is drawn from Thomas Howard's book Evangelical is Not Enough. It is the image of a scrim. A scrim is a shear piece of cloth, often used on a stage to cover action so that it has a shadowy expression rather than the clear showing that happens when the performers are out in the lights. An epiphany is a manifestation but it is a manifestation from behind a scrim. It unveils a deeper reality, but until that reality comes fully into the light we see it in a shadowy manner.

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