(Note: my Orthodox friends celebrated Theophany on January 6, whereas my Catholic friends and I celebrated Epiphany on January 4 and celebrate the Baptism of Christ tomorrow, January 11. May God manifest Himself in all of our hearts.)
This past week was an especially migrainous one for me. It began last Saturday when I was unable to wake up, my brain lost in a fog of compulsory somnolence. Because I was scheduled to work that morning, I struggled to pull out of the mental haze, first with cold water to the face, then with the usual morning prayer while sitting on the floor.
I knew I had lost the battle when I felt unable to remain upright on the floor. I called my patient to cancel, took some medication and allowed sleep to enfold me. A few hours later, I forced myself to get up. My head no longer hurt but, not having much energy or focus, I slogged through the rest of the day. And the next day. And the next.
As I started coming back to my self, I felt a bit of euphoria. How good life is! However, that night, stabbing pains assaulted my left leg, my brain wouldn’t stay asleep and the next day, yes, another migraine emerged. (With this alternate type of migraine, my brain decides that it cannot stay asleep for several consecutive nights.)
I am not writing all of this to complain. Not at all. I have been blessed far beyond anything I could possibly deserve and this little affliction is nothing compared to the burdens that others bear. Rather, I am writing to describe what almost seemed a plot to keep my spirit down during this most beautiful week of spiritual feast.
One of things that happens during migraine attacks is that my sensibilities are dulled, often from deep fatigue but sometimes just because. Hence, I can pray and I am just repeating words. I am dull before the Lord, if I even remember to bring myself before Him. I go through motions, wishing there was more but there isn’t.
One thing that I have learned in the process, though it has taken me some time to absorb the reality of it, is that how I feel at any given moment is of little or no significance.
And so, Theophany, Epiphany and related words have been with me throughout the week, even if my mind and heart seem as grey and cloudy as a Cleveland winter sky.
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that it took my computer’s search engine to bring me to a deeper understanding – but it is true. I had not fully understood before why the baptism of Jesus was celebrated at the end of the Christmas season and how it might be associated with the Magi searching for the Christ Child.
Manifestation. It began with the Magi, travelers from foreign lands somehow knowing that there was a great King born. Something was revealed – but only hinted at. At the baptism, however, God reveals Himself as Triune: the Father’s voice is heard, proclaiming Jesus as the Son, and the Spirit is seen descending upon Him.
Divinity shines forth into our world at that moment in a way that it never has before. The waters of the Jordan do not make the Christ holy in baptism. Rather, He makes holy the water as this Truth is gratuitously poured out on humanity. “The Great Blessing of Water” in Orthodox tradition is a beautiful celebration that delivers this holiness to the homes of believers.
Often when I am in one of these periods of muddled mind, I become hyper-focused on a project that does not need to be done, keeping me distracted from both my discomforts and the responsibilities that feel like too much. During one such period this week, I recorded a Theophany story as related by St. Porphyrios in the book, Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios.
The love the shines forth in this story is a deep reminder that the One who has come into our world has come for every one of us, regardless of our state. There is no darkness too profound for His light, no plot that can block Him from the heart that calls to Him with even the tiniest of whispers.
Listen. And then, with me, whisper to Him your own prayer…
(In hopes that the copyright police will be lenient with me for using such a long quote, please consider this a brief book review. Wounded by Love is probably the best spiritual book I have ever read. It is full of warm humanity and interesting stories but most of all a deep love of Christ that is so profound and yet so humble that one cannot help but want to read the book over and over in hopes of absorbing even of fraction of the author’s holiness.)