Epiphany means manifestation, the making known of what is to be known. The teaching of the Epiphany season in the Christian understanding is about two things: the making known of the essential divinity of Christ and the making known of the divine will and purpose for our humanity. In this way it complements an essential feature of the religions of the world and every educational project worthy of the name. There are things to be known that belong to the wholeness and completeness of our humanity as persons. Such is the idea of philosophy, of learning, as a way of life.
We easily lose sight of this in a world which is fixated and focused on a multitude of specific things such that we can no longer see the whole of which we are a part. This is where the Epiphany season comes into play. It challenges our own incomplete and partial perspectives where we constantly mistake a half-truth (or less) for the whole truth or where we think that because there are different perspectives there is no truth. To say that there is ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’ is to say there is no truth which is self-contradictory. We forget that all our knowing presupposes the idea that there is something to be known that is in principle for all. The idea of Truth is assumed in all our intellectual endeavours.
Owing to the restrictions of the current worries about COVID-19 in its latest iteration, omicron, Chapel has been suspended. Yet in the virtual assembly with the Junior School this week, I had the opportunity to speak briefly to them. I reminded them of the story which we would have read in Chapel this week about Jesus as a boy of twelve, not altogether unlike them, engaged with the doctors of the law, “hearing them and asking them questions”. It is a wonderful story about teaching and learning. It is serious and freeing especially in the face of things which we cannot change. The challenge is not to collapse into our fears and worries but to find ways to persevere and to carry on in the pursuit of truth, the one thing necessary and something which lies within our control and responsibility. It speaks to our freedom and dignity and reminds us of the strong ethical requirement that with knowledge and its pursuit comes responsibility. Such is growing up and maturing in wisdom.
This biblical story is captured in part in the Buckle Window in the Chapel. Just after the encounter between Mary and Joseph and the boy Jesus in the temple, he returns to Nazareth with them “increas[ing] in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man”. In a way the point is really quite simple: we have the image of the boy Jesus with the learned doctors as both student and learner whose understanding amazed them all but also as the teacher and the master of the very things that are to be known.
We can only hold those things together by our attention and serious approach to the real meaning of our studies and life together at the School. Jesus’s question challenges Mary and highlights the purpose and mission of Christ. It turns the world on its head, to be sure, but belongs to the journey of the understanding. Such is the nature of the engagement between our humanity and God. In other words, his question to her is not a clever, know-it-all adolescent retort. The whole story is about the transition from childhood to adulthood; his bar-mitzvah, if you will, in the Jewish custom. There are stages that we all go through in life that belong to growing up in maturity and wisdom humanly speaking. But all such learning presupposes that there is Truth and that it is to be sought in our lives. It is really all about a way of life, the life of learning and serving which this story wonderfully shows. Thus, the question of Jesus is not rhetorical but epiphanic; it makes known the identity of Christ and it makes known the will and purpose of God for us.
We are meant to be learners, seriously engaged in acquiring not just a collection of facts and factlets, the bits and bites of information in our data saturated age, but knowledge and wisdom. There are always hardships and challenges. The real task, as Timothy Findley has a character say in his novel, The Wars, is to “clarify who you are by your response to when you lived”. That is to take your learning seriously as a way of life, taking responsibility for your knowledge and for your growth in wisdom and understanding. An epiphany to be sure, for us and in us.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English & ToK TeacherChair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy