The text of this sonnet can be seen at the end of this reflection.
Epiphany comes from an ancient Greek word meaning to reveal. When we say we have had an epiphany we mean the recognition of a truth that has suddenly been revealed to us, an “aha!” moment. The church season after Christmas is called Epiphany because it celebrates God’s presence on earth revealed not only in Jesus but also in the manifestations of light we can see in all people and all nature.
Humanity needs both kinds of epiphanies right now as we search for a way forward through a world that has been made strange to us by our own actions.
We need to see new truths, and we need to see ancient truths anew. We need to shape a new story out of the old, expressing a new understanding of our place and purpose in the universe. Following our old story, our society has become polarized, our earth unstable, greed out of control. Racial, economic and environmental injustice are bringing society to the point of upheaval. And yet the heart of the old story has truth in it that we need to carry forward.
The violent riot that smashed its way into the United States Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 carried signs, shouted slogans and blasted music that identified it as a white supremacist, fundamentalist, Christian-nationalist event.
The New Yorker published footage taken by journalist Luke Mogelson from the midst of the insurrection that he filmed with his phone.
A motley cluster of a half dozen or so occupy the seat where the Vice President presides in the Senate Chamber almost eight minutes into the video . A solitary Capitol policeman has been quietly pleading with them to treat the place as sacred and leave, but before they go one of them bellows hoarsely toward the high Chamber ceiling, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name, Amen!” A loud chorus of “AMEN!” comes from around the Chamber.
Then a leader in a fur hat with horns and a bare chest covered in tattoos cries, “Hold on, let’s all say a prayer in this sacred space.” A semicircle of twenty or so gathers with heads bowed around the central dais.
The prayer begins, “Thank you heavenly Father for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights. Thank you heavenly Father for giving the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building…to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the American way of the United States of America to go down. Thank you, divine omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love, your white light of harmony.”
The prayer goes on to thank God for protection and peace, and for allowing the United States to be reborn.
One of the many astounding things about this prayer is how the people doing egregious violence to the police, members of congress, reporters and Capitol Building seemed sincerely to believe that they were on the side peace and harmony, and how white supremacists who had erected a noose to suggest lynching seemed sincerely to feel that they were on the side of light and love.
Another extraordinary thing about the prayer was how it unintentionally echoed what is written on the Senate Chamber walls. These are the words inscribed over the doorways and behind the Vice President’s chair:
- “Annuit coeptis” (God has favored our undertakings)
- “In God we trust”
- “Novus ordo seclorum” (A new order of the ages [is born])
- “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one)
These inscriptions trace back over two thousand years to the Roman Empire. For instance, “Magnus ab integro seclorum nascitur ordo” is from Virgil’s Eclogue IV, line 5, “the great order of the ages is born anew.”
The concept that there is an order, a sacred Way, is as old as recorded human thought. The ideals of peace and harmony, light and love have been valued forever. Religions that have sprung up independently around the world throughout the ages have advocated trust in the sacred Way, believing that following it brings the best life.
All humanity, including every nation, culture and perspective, shares a common heritage of inscribed ideals that has shaped human civilization, however imperfectly. That heritage unites us even in our differences.
Our perspective on what these shared ideals mean and how to apply them is what divides us. Progressive, rational, pluralistic people have left the Christian church in droves because they have heard these shared values proclaimed by other Christians whom they see as fundamentalist, anti-science, racist, bigoted, violent, hard-hearted, abusive and unjust oppressors.
This is a tragic and unnecessary loss of a valuable institution. The solution is not to abandon religion or America because people in it define love and peace differently.
I was horrified by the Christian insurrection at the Capitol, I have dedicated my life to working against what it stood for and my perspective is vastly different, and yet I see that underneath it all, we are one. I see, as the Rev. William Sloane Coffin used to say, that what we have in common is far greater than what we have in conflict.
This gives me hope, because the problems that threaten the survival of humanity and human civilization require us to overcome our polarization and act as one—not one hundred percent, of course, not by consensus, but by a majority that spans differences and decisively unites our culture.
The greatest problem is in our perspectives on the human truth that we share. Some levels of human consciousness cannot see oneness beyond the boundaries of people who have similar views and are from the same group. We will not be able to solve the crises that face us unless our culture recognizes our oneness not only with all people but with all nature, all the earth and all creation.
We need a new understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. We need a new story that looks back at the inscriptions of the ages, at the timeless words and common experiences that we all share, and makes new sense of them. We need the most expansive hearts and minds we can attain to have the expansive love, harmony, peace and light that we need now to survive. The old words and the walls they are written on are essential to help us get to that new place.
Read the inscriptions on the timeless wall,
cathedral, temple, mosque or sacred cave.
Hear through them all one common voice, one call,
one Spirit and the vision that it gave,
a glimpse of meaning to that time and place,
field wisdom gleaned through struggles to survive
and through their sorrow, peace and joy, pure grace—
love’s yearning to make count that time alive.
It was their hunt to slay the needed beast,
it was their grief when tusk or nail pierced flesh,
it was their gift to make of loss a feast,
but they are ours, too, timeless, paint still fresh.
Pictograph, glyph and rune, all stone-carved light:
they give our soul voice, clarify our sight.
copyright 2021 Thomas Cary Kinder