I had a blockbuster revelation this week. Or at least an epiphany that may well initiate some sort of a chain reaction of personal growth and change….
It happened as I was writing my friend John. Just an e-mail catching him up on goings on in my life. Ok, there was a bit more of a theme. The subject line read “midlife confoundedness.” It was about things I find surprising. Or troubling. Or just mysterious.
To be honest, there’s a fairly long list at this point in my life. Problems I don’t understand. The way certain things have turned out. Myself and others!
Recent examples could include what’s happening in my sons’ lives. The paralysis that the U.S. government has become. A funny conversation with my ex-wife. How anyone can deny climate change. Who I’m dating.
This note wasn’t meant to be an inclusive list of all my confoundedness. Just some of them, off the top of my head. Mostly just newsy, not too profound — the sort of info. shared between friends who stay in touch — gathered without too much thought, generally from the category of the ‘doublely surprising’, namely, “what I can’t believe that at this ripe age I still can’t quite comprehend.”
And all of a sudden in the midst of all of that, I shared something autobiographical. Nothing all that earth-shattering. Something I have talked about with others before, probably already with John. The specifics aren’t so important here. Because my point here is about the experience or possibility of revelation.
There I was writing along, a simple declarative sentence, mentioning something I’ve struggled with. Not found debilitating, but an interesting and troubling aspect of my own personal experience (at least to me!). I might call it a deficit that i’d never quite understood the origins of. And it has bothered me. i might even say it has limited me in certain ways. And I’ve always guessed if I could understand it better, I might be a bit more agile with it. Or even able to dance my way around it. But, despite some real personal work, and even seeking help, I had not had any luck before on this issue.
But all of a sudden, without seeing it come or any forethought, I had written out a possible explanation. There it was before me on the computer screen. Plain as day.
I stopped. And went back. And read what I had written, almost as if I was reading what someone else had written to me. I didn’t know where it had come from. And it was news to me. But on target. Something I’d never been able to see before. But once I’d read it, or written it, it was so obvious I couldn’t see how it had escaped me for so long! It was if a lightbulb had suddenly switched on. Or I was reading a message that someone else had sent me.
Do you know the “writing on the wall” story from the 5th chapter of the Book of Daniel? Where Belshazzar, the Babylonian King, is having a drunken feast during which he praises “the gods of gold and silver, brass, iron, wood and stone” using the sacred vessels that had been pillaged from Solomon’s Temple (when the Babylonians had sacked Jerusalem and carted off its inhabitants into captivity).
All of a sudden, a disembodied hand appears and before everyone, writes on the palace wall the words:
מנא, מנא, תקל, ופרסין
“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”
None of the King’s advisors, diviners or magicians can interpret any meaning. So the visionary Daniel, one of the exiled Jews is summoned, and he recognizes the words as Aramaic names for measures of currency:
MENE, a mina — from the root meaning “to count”
TEKEL, a spelling of shekel — from the root meaning “to weigh”
PERES, half a mina — from the root meaning “to divide”, but additionally resembling the word for “Persia”.
UPHARSIN — which Daniel read as “peres” not “parsin.”
The free translation that he therein decoded and shared with the King was, the Bible states, “This is the interpretation of the matter: mina, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; shekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; half-mina, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Needless to say, this sort of crazy incident was only remembered because it quickly came to be understood as true prophecy. That very night, Belshazzar was killed and the Persians sacked the capital city.
My writing on the wall was hardly of such great import. No geopolitical implications. Not any sacrilegious wrongdoing. Just some quiet self-understanding that might make my living of my life a bit easier, even fuller. In that sense, the episode might turn out somewhat prophetic, or at least a first step out of a certain captivity.
I share all this because I think it can suggest two things to us:
First of all, that “there is some help for us with those things we struggle with.” I’m not sure exactly whose hand wrote that sentence to John that I find such an epiphany. And some much less mysterious explanation is certainly possible — that some self-knowledge sort of bubbled up out of my subconscious about something that I’ve been working on and thinking about, and seeking help with for a long, long time.
But the fact of revelation remains: something I have longed to understand that was inaccessible to me was suddenly clear to me. I choose to give thanks for that as “epiphany” — some help “from beyond.”
And secondly, just as Daniel was able to decipher and interpret, I believe that I can take some credit too. Because, as I said, I have kept asking the question. Despite some frustration. And pain. And many years without a lot of success. When it might have been easier to stop trying. Or to look the other way.
Still I didn’t shy away. Or give up. But believed if I could solve the minor personal mystery. Or at least that there was some benefit in trying to find the missing piece to one of the ways I am my own puzzle, that my life might be a bit more complete.
In her book, An Altar in the World, Babara Brown Taylor exhorts us how to look for altars everywhere we go and in nearly everything we do… as we learn to live with purpose, pay attention, slow down, and revere the world we live in. I offer as encouragement then, what she wrote about in the tenth chapter of the book: “The Practice of Feeling Pain: Breakthrough.”
Keep asking about what you believe you need to know. Even when it hurts. Or if all you meet is silence and dead ends. And frustration. So much so that it might add to your pain.
But, I believe, that the search is absolutely essential. It may even make it easier for God to open before you the revelations and epiphanies, personal, private and specific as they might be. Those which, when at long last they arrive, turn out to have been worth all the heartache and trouble because they can make for our more abundant lives.
See you in church,