Many seasons occur on the church calendar, some familiar as Christmas and Easter, and others I must research. Epiphany! For me, an epiphany is an AHA! moment when something is finally understood. My Google research tells me it is also a Christian celebration twelve weeks after Christmas when the Magi spotted a star that led them to a manger where they would find the newborn king. Putting myself among them, I ask, “Why at this moment are we looking for a newborn king? What is there about that star that assures guidance to the birthplace? Are we ready for new leadership, and how do we know we are ready?
“Mrs. Kollar!” a student returning from her freshman year in college greets me, as she confidently bounds into what was her last year’s senior English class. “I have learned so much in my English 101 class at the UW. Did you know that ‘between you and I,’ isn’t grammatically correct, because between is a preposition and it needs an objective pronoun?”
These weren’t her exact words, but she and other college returnees excitedly share some “newly discovered” wisdom that I had taught the year they sat in the front row of my senior College Prep English class. They may have recently “learned” that Emily Dickinson was a recluse or Walt Whitman sold verses of Leaves of Grass on street corners in New York. How excited they are to fill me in on what I “failed” to teach the year they were in my class. I could groan with disappointment. Instead, I share their joy that their minds are still engaged in learning about their English language and literature.
Since those students left, I had an epiphany in the sense of an Aha! understanding. Here it is: what matters in education is not only the delivering of subject matter but the readiness of students to learn. I had not failed teaching about prepositions or the poems of Dickinson and Whitman; however, some students weren’t ready to take it all in. In college they were ready.
All of our lives we stumble on readiness – or the lack of it. Potty training! I still recall turning to the index of my Dr. Spock (the pediatrician, for you Sci Fi fans). A conscientious mother, I was going to set up the pink plastic potty for Colleen as soon as the book told me she should be ready. Caution: should be ready. Only my little girl would determine when she was actually ready for the first tinkle to reward my anxiety.
If I taught only one literary work, it would be Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In that play there is so much universal truth and psychology. In the final act, Hamlet is about to have a duel with Laertes, a fight that he will likely lose. Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, tries to dissuade him from the match, because Laertes is by far the better and more practiced swordsman. Hamlet won’t be deterred, saying, There’s special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. ( Hamlet, V, ii, 230-233). Hamlet knows he will die, so when he dies is not his concern. What is important is his readiness to die. He is ready. How perfect for Act 5 and for preparing the audience to accept his death.
What boosted Hamlet’s readiness he found in the book of Matthew: What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. ( Matthew 10:29-31 New Living Translation) Hamlet feels God’s grace, a grace that readies him for any destination.
Back to those Magi getting ready to take that trip to Bethlehem. As with any journey, they will have loaded saddle bags with provisions, and we know they thought of gifts. They were ready for their journey. It must have been a long, tedious camel ride following that star, a ride that provided time for reflection and prayer. I can’t imagine one shouting to another along the way. But that plodding prayerfulness may have heightened their readiness to meet the newborn king.
Here in dark January, how can I use contemplative time to prepare, to be ready so when an epiphany comes, I will recognize the gift of understanding?