An Epiphany in Spokane and Moscow
Commentary by Walter Hesford
My Christian denomination, along with some others, celebrates the time between January 6 and Ash Wednesday as the season of Epiphany.
In common use an epiphany is a sudden moment of awareness — an “ah ha” moment. Etymologically, an epiphany is a shining (“-pha’’-) forth (“epi-“), a manifestation of light. In Christian tradition, this shining forth is the coming of Jesus into the world, a coming through which we all may shine.
In my church (Emmanuel Lutheran, Moscow), after worship service and after getting some coffee and cookies, a group of us have been discussing the music and scriptures of the Epiphany season. (“This Little Light of Mine” is one well-know gospel song with an Epiphany message.) The scriptures for January 6 include the story of wise men from the East who follow a star until it leads them to the new-born king, Jesus, whom they present with costly gifts. This is the origin of the tradition of gift-giving on this day, still followed in some cultures.
The wise-men story is found in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12, which abounds with imagery from the Hebrew prophet, Isaiah. So another scripture reading for January 6 is Isaiah 60:1-6. Here are the first three verses: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you,/ and the glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (NRSV)
After hearing these verses, we shared some thoughts about them: how the shining of the people called to arise is reflective, as the moon reflects the light of the sun; how the coming of the light here echoes how light breaks through the cover of darkness in the first creation story of Genesis; how Isaiah is encouraging his people to hope for a glorious future; how this future includes not only the people of Israel, but all of us.
As we were reflecting on the meaning of this for our lives, one in our group, Charlene, said that sometimes the light that shines through the darkness for us may come from an unexpected source. When asked to explain what she meant, she shared an Epiphany she was blessed by in a hospital in Spokane.
While walking by Moscow’s East City Park almost six years ago, Charlene’s beloved husband Kurt suffered a major heart attack. Because of its severity, he was rushed via airplane on a cold, snowy night up to Sacred Heart Hospital. Charlene accompanied him on the plane. Kurt was taken to the Intensive Care Unit, and Charlene was directed to a nearby waiting room. Since this happened unexpectedly, no family members or friends had joined her yet, so she waited alone.
Or almost alone. Across the waiting room were a woman and a man. Charlene would later learn that they were a sister and brother, perhaps immigrants from Mexico or South America, who were waiting to hear about their mother, who was also in intensive care.
After a few minutes a doctor appeared at the door, about ten feet from Charlene, and spoke to her. He said that she could see her husband when they had gotten him settled in his room and that a nurse would come for her. Then he said, “You know he probably won’t make it, don’t you?”
Charlene had not known this and naturally started to quietly cry. At that moment, the woman sitting across the room, having heard what the doctor said, got up, came over, sat by Charlene, put her arm around her, and with a Spanish accent, comforted her in a loving way. Soon her brother came over, too.
This was indeed light breaking through the darkness, an Epiphany of kindness. As we discussed this
moving event, we wondered if we would have been moved to be so kind, or whether we would have
been afraid to intervene. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) came to mind.
Hearing Charlene’s story was itself an Epiphany, shedding light on the need for us to care for one another in every season.
This column was inspired by and written with the help of Charlene.
Walter Hesford, born and educated in New England, gradually made his way West. For many years he was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, save for stints teaching in China and France. At Idaho, he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow. He and his wife Elinor enjoy visiting with family and friends and hunting for wild flowers.