Containing the Epiphany

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Epiphanies provide clarity and vision for life. Perhaps through a tragic event or a moment of heightened spiritual awareness, we are awakened to the possibility that our lives are not on the path we desire or that we are not walking our path as effectively or living it as fully as we desire.

Sometimes epiphanies come through a sermon, a dream, a conversation or even an unexplainable spiritual experience. Whatever the experience, epiphanies do not last, but rather fade. In order to see any lasting change, in order to repent in light of this new awareness, we need to create what Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz calls “spiritual vessels.” In his book The Soul, he illustrates: Suppose that you are on a boat that has drifted off course and now you are in survival mode. You have no drinkable water. The rain comes, but you know it will not last. Like an epiphany, it will soon fade and only those who had vessels to contain the rain will benefit from its life-giving nourishment. Sure, you can cup your hands and drink for a moment, but a vessel to contain the rain will provide greater benefit. In the same way - though an epiphany (read significant spiritual experience or enlightenment) cannot be contained - we must look for ways to create vessels to contain the experience. This can take the form of committing to a plan for growth, beginning some work or program, and so on. The creation of the vessel allows us to experience the moment on a recurring basis, to draw nourishment from the revelation so that our lives are continually changed, even though the rains have moved on.

A deep truth is known by this feature: It’s opposite is also likely a deep truth. When I read the great rabbi’s words, I find deep wisdom that can provide insights and tracks for spiritual growth to follow. For example: Our practices of daily prayer or Scripture reading are spiritual vessels to contain the revelations/repentances/moments of awareness and clarity we experience. However, I hold this desire to create spiritual vessels in tension with the disciples’ experience atop what has come to be known as The Mount of Transfiguration. There, three disciples see Jesus’s figure transformed and he speaks with three great figures from Torah. The suggestion is made that tents should be made upon this mountain - they desire to contain the experience, to linger in the epiphany. But Jesus knows that epiphanies are intended to compel action, and so they descend the mountain into the needs of the people.

But they carry with them the moment. The disciples contain the epiphany. They walk among the people while holding in their awareness a deep revelation of who Jesus is, even amidst people who only want his services for their own valid needs - spiritual and physical.

We can create spiritual vessels to contain our epiphanies, our moments of clarity and insight, our aha! moments, but we must not seek to make them static, to make the epiphany about the epiphany.

Can you think of a moment of spiritual clarity? Did you create a “spiritual vessel” to contain it?

Tommy Brown2 Comments