Epiphany - Looking for Christ in the Ordinary


by Sarah Parsons

I don't normally see Christ in my everyday life. Even when I look carefully, even when I try to conceive of Christ in abstract terms, the days look pretty drab and ordinary.

Take today, for instance. It is Sunday. I got up; I studied; I went to church; I studied some more, talked to friends on the phone, went for a run, had dinner with my parents and brother, and now I'm home writing. The day was mostly gray. The only remarkable thing about it was that it was unseasonably warm, but that doesn't make it much more interesting.

When I lament my ordinary, boring life, I am chastised by Rilke's words in Letters to a Young Poet: "If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches."

This seems to say that there are no boring lives, no boring days, only failures of insight and imagination. If my day seems dull, Rilke says, I am just not reading it right.


Finding magic in daily life is hard for me. It requires patience and perseverance, like when I was a kid and looked beside creeks for arrowheads: I never actually found one. I looked and looked, found no arrowheads, just lots of rocks. When I read my regular days, I feel like I am sifting through the gravel of my life, finding nothing but more gravel, never the arrowhead that I'm hoping for.

But what if I'm looking for the wrong thing? What if the arrowhead isn't the only magical find possible? Perhaps there is something of beauty in these rocks themselves. If rocks are magic, then I can read my day differently: I got up on a warm Sunday morning, the air moist and windy, with all the energy of a storm coming. I went to my favorite café to study, drank good coffee, and studied how to run human services agencies well, so that they can do good work and communities can get healthier.

I went to church and heard a sermon about listening to one's dreams, and I felt hope for a new year. A friend called and we made plans to see a movie together. With the evening still warm and blustery, I went for a run and pushed myself hard, listening to music. I met my parents and brother for dinner, talked about the previous week; leaving, I hugged my parents, told them I loved them. Was Christ not in that day? Was that day so drab, or was Christ with me, born over and over again, and in my cursory first reading I glanced right over him?


These Christ-sightings are an Epiphany message for me. Christmas says Christ is here, born into the world. Epiphany says it's up to us to find him, and it may not be easy. We may have to walk a long road, follow strange guidance, and encounter Herod-like dangers. Epiphany celebrates humankind's accomplishment of a very difficult task. Christ's birth is a miracle indeed, but it's possibly a still greater miracle that we, the earnest yet ever-benighted human race, manage to recognize him, tiny and humble, lying in a barn in some no-name town.

Epiphany calls me to step up my theological reflection a notch. When I expect Christ to enter my day with lots of fanfare and, at the end of the day, bemoan that "nothing happened," I wonder if I am getting Christ wrong somehow. Christ originally entered the world in pretty ordinary human style, even more humbly than most humans do.

At the same time, the magic of Christ is that love became incarnate here, that we are promised abundant life, triumph over death. Those concepts seem so abstract, too lofty to apply to one day in one small life.

Yet Christ is precisely that point at which the divine and human intersect, where God meets us in our mundane daily reality. This is one of the most beautiful insights of Christianity: that God comes into our place, with all its ordinariness. Our God is willing to live through our boring days with us.

Epiphany celebrates not only that God chooses to do this, but that one day we woke up and noticed it. May we wake up to this fact again and again, experiencing one glorious Epiphany after another.

Sarah Parsons is a social worker and author of the Upper Room book A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent.