Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sunrises and Kingfishers: An Epiphanytide Reflection

The television commercial begins with vistas of our local region and a narrator’s homey voice: “I like it here. There’s nothing wrong with there, I guess, but I like it here.” I agree; so, with apologies to those who live there, I say that here – the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains – is one of the most beautiful places on this beautiful earth.

Five days each week, most weeks, I travel, with my daughter, toward these mountains at sunrise, a time when God does some of his best work -- this morning a case in point. Have you ever seen the oil paintings at “starving artists” sales – sofa-size paintings with colors so vibrant they strain the eyes and with pigments slathered on as thick as mayonnaise on a BLT? When God spoke this morning, when he said – as he does every morning – “Let there be light!” he painted as a starving artist, with blazing colors of rubies and sapphires and diamonds splashed across his cosmic-size canvas as deep as the waters that cover the seas. God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light, and it was good. It was very good.

And the sun and the mountains and the sky all praised the Lord in the way only they can, in the way he prepared for them:

Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord,
O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Let the earth glorify the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,
and all that grows upon the earth,
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I had the distinct impression this morning that God was showing off – “Hey, watch this!” – not for the sake of his ego – though he alone is “I AM” – but for the sake of revelation, so that what is unseen – his eternal power and divinity (cf Rom 1:20) – might be glimpsed in and through what is seen. And what is epiphany if not this – God showing off, God making himself seen and known to us in and through his creation, God shining forth for us and for our salvation? “Hey, watch this!” God says in each epiphany, and if we are wise we will.

I live by a creek; so, too, does a pair of kingfishers. I see one or both of them most days, sitting on the wires above the street, looking intently into the water below, thinking inscrutable kingfisher thoughts. They are joyously bizarre birds: compact bodies, oversized heads with punk haircuts, long bills. They seemingly cannot fly without calling out – a unique, clicking chirp: “Hey, watch this!” These birds – no less than the sunrise – are epiphanies: God showing off his delight in the works of his hands, his exuberant energy made manifest in creation. Saint Francis preached to the birds, though probably not to kingfishers. These birds preach to me.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote of such “natural” epiphanies; her poem is itself such an epiphany.

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Epiphanytide is a time to see earth crammed with heaven and every bush afire with God. Even more, it is a time to see the glory of God in the face of Christ, the fullness of God in human form: dwelling among us, teaching and healing, heading resolutely and inexorably toward a cross and tomb – the ultimate epiphany of the love of God for his creation. And it is a time to begin listening for the whisper that becomes a shout of victory – “Hey, watch this!” – as the tomb bursts open and Christ strides forth rising from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life: God showing off. Indeed.

[1] A Song of Creation (selections), BCP 88.


Anonymous said...

Several people here at St. Mary's Sewanee commented on that same sunrise. Yesterday I had a conversation with a person who was in another city and was it; she was a photographer who is taking a picture a day for a year. I told her about your photo. This morning at the convent, we "canticled" the Song of Creation. I love how God weaves us together.

John said...


How wonderful to hear from you! And yes, it is good and right to know that we are threads in a beautiful tapestry that God is weaving by design according to his good pleasure, and good to be woven close together in this way.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I did not take the picture on the blog; it is of a typically beautiful Smokey Mt. sunrise, but not a picture of that particular one, I'm afraid.

How about some updates (reflections) on your extended retreat? I have not received any of late.

Peace of Christ,