Last week, as we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, I began thinking about the importance of names – all names, not just the names we give to people. One thing that came to mind was a wonderful interview of one of my favorite writers – Eudora Welty. She spoke of the instant as a child when she became suddenly aware of the power and specificity of words.
She was gazing at the moon one evening and, as she relates in One Writer’s Beginnings, “the word ‘moon’ came to me as though fed to me out of a silver spoon. Held in my mouth the moon became a word. It had the roundness of a Concord grape Grandpa took off his vine and gave me.” Her wonder at the exactness of this word, representing this vast, mysterious and unreachable thing, would feed into her desire to read and eventually to write, creating entire worlds full of life and character.
Now, as we celebrate the Epiphany, a time of divine revelation, the significance of words continues to take on weight. Though this is a season of recognizing or at least glimpsing the reality of God the Son, this word epiphany has been used in ways that diminish its power. We sometimes call small realizations “epiphanies” (i.e. I had an epiphany that I should stop drinking caffeine or quit asking for affirmation from that individual who has consistently offered harsh, negative criticism or switch brands of cooking oil). These new awarenesses are good things, but perhaps we should call them by another name. At the very least, perhaps we can set aside epiphany for those new states of consciousness that are deeply life-changing and transformational, not just for ourselves but for our world. Let’s save epiphany for those realizations that are so immense, so powerful that they take on a life of their own, that they act as a life-force that dynamically changes us, ushering us into a space marked by justice and love. Ushering us into a world in which we act with greater justice and a truer, sacrificial love.
This week my friend Scott Claassen has been visiting with us here in Jacksonville, and, eager to have him come, I have been acting as his self-appointed “booking agent.” At times it is like pulling teeth, to get folks’ attention. To get them to come and see this very special happening: a big-hearted vision on two wheels. But when they do take a pause/rest/Sabbath to enter the conversation, for the most part they are nothing short of mesmerized. At the very least they are intrigued. This yearlong bike tour – this “Carbon Sabbath” – is a story that draws us in, that has a gravitational pull on our hearts and minds. Scott shared that the inspiration for this pilgrimage came to him as a fully formed idea, divinely inspired. In his Carbon Sabbath, Scott embodies a movement of dialogue that challenges and inspires, that calls us to think and act differently as a community. His message is one of concern for the climate change that is unavoidable, that is an unmovable force already well underway. We cannot change the cold hard facts of the science behind this. But what we can shape and affect is how we will treat our neighbors as this change occurs, how we will care for each other and especially for those who are most deeply and harshly affected.
Is it fair to call Scott’s inspiration for a Carbon Sabbath an epiphany, his project a symbol of God with us? Possibly. But this depends on how we respond. If enough of us pay attention and remain conscious, if enough of us engage as a community, committed to taking care of our neighbors, meaning anyone who inhabits this planet, then yes, most definitely. Epiphany it is.
(photos taken at St. Francis In-the-Field pavilion on Jan. 7, 2012)