January Journal, Third Sunday after Epiphany

It’s been a week of awakenings, epiphanies, which is appropriate given my review of The Awakening of Jennifer Arsdale by George Leef was published yesterday on the VoegelinView website, a fascinating library of erudite articles on culture, history, music, Western Civilization, and more. My little review was a bit nervous about the company it was going to be keeping, but I gave the review’s heartfelt words and lines a pep talk and all seems fine now. Sometimes you have to venture forth into the wider world, I explained patiently to my creation. Just like Jennifer Van Arsdale.

Epiphanies are awakenings, perhaps more focused. Epiphanies are re-creations, new creations, sudden sight, sudden hearing, sudden knowing. Sometimes they heal, warn, advise. And so as I listened to the Gospel for today in the stunning St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel in Berkeley, I had an epiphany about epiphanies. For Christ’s first miracle is recounted, the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in the town of Cana. But of course, I thought, our Creator can turn anything into anything. He knows how to do it, the water was created by him as was the wine. On this altar in our chapel, He will become present in the bread and the wine. And just so, I thought, daring to venture forth into the wider world of seeing, understanding, even knowing, Christ can do the same with us. He can change us from water into wine, if we desire it, if we will it, if we say yes as Mary did all those years ago.

I’ve been working on the backstories for my four characters that will inhabit the pages of my next novel, The Music of the Mountain. When I approach these things, early on when the task seems so gigantic that I fear I shall freeze in trembling apprehension of all the details that must be either remembered or recorded – when I approach the creation of my characters, I pause, wait and listen. I want epiphanies to help me create the characters. I want, no less, God to give me a nudge or two. A sign. An arrow pointing somewhere. So I wait, empty-handed as it were, for I have found approaching Our Lord empty allows Him to work his own miracles in my heart, soul, and mind, allows Him to fill the emptiness.

So over the week, details began to emerge, confirmed by others with whom I conversed about the storyline. Pieces fell into place. And again this morning, on this bright sunlit morning, sitting on my folding chair and gazing at the medieval crucifix over the altar with its tented tabernacle and up to the vaulted dome and its slanting rays of sun (sun!), I had two more epiphany ideas for the story, ideas that will create a stronger foundational structure for the novel.

My old vicar in the story is living in an abandoned (UC Berkeley) residence hall next door to this chapel. He is going to have regular conversations with God in the chapel, as one would have with an old friend one counts on. We shall hear what ails him – and why – and learn, perhaps, a bit more about the spiritual life, the Christian pilgrimage through Time into Eternity. His bishop of blessed memory lies beneath the altar, and perhaps these ashen relics will work their own epiphanies in those who worship in this incredibly sacred space.

My second epiphany I had this morning regards my youngest character, Molly MacRae, who desires to teach children real history, true American History, in a school she will run, either online or in person. I’m thinking she will have regular reflections on fairy tales told in her childhood. Once upon a time, not so far away, lived a princess… Princesses are out of favor in our world of dumbing down and persecuting merit or rank. Molly is concerned and knows she has a princess heart if only she can find her prince.

And now I’m thinking the would-be prince will be considering what it means to be a hero, to be a man, to fill a role that Western Civilization has honored for millennia, for heroes sacrifice themselves for a greater good, or perhaps to protect a princess, and must be rewarded with honor and high esteem. Bravery needs to be honored, else who would dare to be brave?

The fourth character, my Ethics Professor, will have a past of suffering. How she has suffered – what she has done that becomes to her unforgivable – will be visited as a story within a story, slowly, tenderly, with great care not to open the wounds too wide, too suddenly.

For we are all stories within stories within stories, as our Dear Lord knows, having written us, each one of us unique, trembling figures of passion playing out our own passio, our own Way of the Cross. Epiphanytide teaches us this, teaches us to listen, to see, to open our hearts to Our Heavenly Father. He manifests himself to us, but only if we say yes, as did our Blessed Mother Mary so long ago in a town called Nazareth.

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