The Day(s) after Epiphany(ies) by Elizabeth Cunningham


Elizabeth Cunningham

I am beginning this post (again!) on Thursday, January 7, 2021, the day after Epiphany. I have been working on it since Monday. It not unusual for me to take a whole week to write a post for Feminism and Religion, which is why I only post quarterly. It is unusual for me get to Thursday and scrap all attempts, to acknowledge that I still don’t know what to say.

In western Christianity the feast of Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi at the birthplace of the Christ Child. The eastern Church celebrates his baptism. The divine made flesh is (an) E/epiphany.

There are several definitions of lower case epiphany, among them: “a revealing scene or moment.” Like the one the world witnessed in Washington DC on January 6th, 2021.  Epiphanies don’t have to be beautiful. Many people predicted violence would erupt during the count of the electoral college vote; some people planned it, and one person above all others incited it. Still, the storming of the Capitol was an epiphany, the revelation of an ugly truth some people, at least, had refused to face.

The results of democratic victories in the Georgia senatorial races, announced that same day, could also be hailed as an epiphany, the divine principle of justice made (wo)manifest. Many people worked hard for these victories, but no one more than Stacey Abrams. Defeated in the Georgia gubernatorial race almost certainly because of voter suppression, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to ensuring just elections in Georgia and nationwide. Thanks in great part to her visionary and determined spirit, democracy in the United States of America now has a fighting chance.

I am not sure how to make feminism explicit in this post, a stated purpose of this blogsite. To be sure, I came out of the womb raging at the patriarchy. My mother’s labor was induced not for any medical reason but to accommodate my father’s schedule. As a young woman, I vociferously believed in the inherent superiority of women, my defiant response the overt or insidious patriarchal insistence on women’s inferiority. In the hands of patriarchy even equal opportunity can be a weapon. Witness Trump’s lauding of his appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court ( “a very smart woman”) to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat before January 20th against her express last wish.

I originally planned to write about the chance we now have to stop the pipelines Trump rammed through (language deliberate) by executive order. Feminism is not only about gender equality, but about a quality of attention, listening intently not only to people but to all life, including rivers, seas, forests, mountains. I wanted to tell you about a letter (in PDF, no link) written by forty-one indigenous women to banks and other entities that finance pipelines, pipelines that violate treaty rights, wreak environmental depredation, and escalate climate crisis. Crowded man camps full of temporary workers also pose a threat to the safety of indigenous women as well as spreading coronavirus. On December 11th, in an action coordinated by Stop the Money Pipeline, people across the US and Canada delivered this letter to local branches of banks like JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and many others. For information on fossil fuel divestment, click here.

On January 2, I had an epiphany. I recorded it in the form of a haibun (short prose poem, followed by a haiku.) It has led me to extend a practice that began playfully. I ask for help finding lost things from beings I address as angels, fairies, and devas. Are they real in a literal sense? Located internally, externally? I only know that when I ask for help I shift from frustration, to another state of mind. Unhurried, unworried. When the lost object appears by magic and/or logic, my delight is childlike. I offer thanks aloud.

Not long after my epiphany, I began to wonder if it might have a collective as well as individual application, especially at this time. The haibun’s title is “a way out of no way,” a line that recurs in many Gospel songs and has resonance in the Civil Rights Movement.  A way out of no way strikes me as what we need to be seeking. Can we as a people learn to ask for help from what is within us, between us, all around us? Epiphanies might be everywhere, just waiting for our attention.

Photo by Douglas Smyth

haibun: a way out of no way

I hike to a waterfall at the other end of the wood. In summer the undergrowth is too thick and full of ticks. Even now as I walk atop the high, steep banks of the stream, the barberry is thicker than I remember. The waterfall is worth it, bright and roaring. Heading back, I keep to the stream, though I know the briars may be impenetrable in the swamp. I walk easily on flood-flattened grasses till I come to the thickets. I could climb the bank here; the top is relatively clear. Then I wonder: if the angels, fairies, and devas help me find lost socks and earrings, maybe they will help me find a way through the swamp. I ask out loud for briar-free passage. I look, and then I see it: just a few clear steps. I stop again and wait. I see an opening winding around fallen logs and stumps. Way keeps opening through the tangle, a few steps at a time, till I come to water flowing over a beaver dam, a part of the stream I’ve never seen this close.  At last I turn and look; a gentle slope beckons me back to the edge of the wood.

finders and keepers
of a way out of no way
thank you, patient guides

 

Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen. Her novels The Wild Mother and The Return of the Goddess have both been released in 25th anniversary editions. She is also the author of Murder at the Rummage Sale. The sequel, All the Perils of this Night, was published in August, 2020. An interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.  



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30 replies

  1. What an interesting piece – containing politics, patriarchy, feminism and…fairies and nature spirits! Exactly right for me.

    Thank you – I’m definitely going to try your “way out of no way” – what a beautiful idea.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you! As noted in the first paragraph, I felt lost/at a loss writing this post. It was a lot like finding a way through the briars. Thanks for reading and responding. All the best to you!

      Like

  2. Thank you so much Elizabeth – for waiting and trying again and granting us the possibility of epiphany also
    Your contributions here are much appreciated
    Blessings upon you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful piece, Elizabeth. I like the statement: “Epiphanies might be everywhere, just waiting for our attention.” One of my former colleagues often spoke about “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.” Seems you accomplished that on your walk in the swamp and among the brambles! Love the haibun and haiku.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master/Practice losing further, losing faster”
    Elizabeth Bishop, One Art.

    Elizabeth Cunningham, thank you for this lesson on healing loss.

    May we all find help in finding again whatever we have lost, whether against all our efforts, or through carelessness, or accident.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, AliB! I love the Elizabeth Bishop quotation. Funny, wise, and apt.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful, reflective, and wise post! I do think that when we realize that we are at an impasse and ask for help, from ourselves or others, we open ourselves to possibilities that perhaps we didn’t or weren’t willing to see before. That shift to believing that another being is needed to guide us through our challenges takes us from “me” to “we,” which is so necessary for us to find our way out of the situations we now find ourselves in. A beautiful way to start the day! Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Carolyn. I wonder what “we” may emerge in the coming days and months. There are so many brilliant, imaginative ideas about how to respond to crises in housing, agriculture, sustainable sources of energy, removing plastic from the ocean. What we need is the collective will to be ingenious and resourceful, generous and just. Thanks for reading and responding.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Brava! As usual. I’m glad you kept working on this piece and wrote something so interesting and personal and feminist. We need our epiphanies, which might indeed “be everywhere, just waiting for our attention.” Yes, let’s find lost things–like sanity and kindness in our governments at all levels. Like friendships fading during this pandemic. Like our own well-being. Bright blessings to us all!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Lovely! and have shared on the divine feminine app. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I always appreciate your posts, Elizabeth. I am so grateful for all the epiphanies – be E and small e. For me, I look at Coretta Scott (later, Coretta Scott King) who is the reason we have MLK day. She was a real driving force in the movement, and reluctantly agreed to step back from the limelight to raise the family. She was a fierce advocate for queer inclusion and feminism along with her lifelong work for racial justice. When I read MLK quotes, I use inclusive language, so that I don’t idolize him or his writings. This is an important epiphany for me. It feels scary and radical, in light of the way he was sanitized and neutralized from the very contentious and unpopular figure he was in his time. I think he would appreciate the tension it creates, and I think she would as well. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Tellessyn! I always appreciate your posts! I am glad to know more about Coretta Scott King and her feminist and queer advocacy. Thank you always for your attention to language in hymns and quotations. Seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears. Epiphanies indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, what a post…. i would happily wait another month for another of these jewels… A way out of no way…. returning to a time of harmony with nature to pick up Indigenous ways in order to move on – everything in a circle – a way out of no way – this works for me – there was a time I would have turned away from devas and fairies but no more – nature can choose to listen to us manifesting as a bear or a fairy – the important thing is that we are listening, receiving. That women have to lead is the only way now way out of no way can succeed because we can handle the ambiguity -don’t you think? Epiphanies indeed!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Always such a pleasure to read your writing Elizabeth. You may have come out of the womb raging but you have shown us all how to take that rage and make art (and haibun – love it!).

    I always do a blessings for the pixties for finding lost things. They like shiny objects so keys and such are always are risk. But I find the pixties have their fun and then return the items especially if I ask nicely.

    So from faeries to pipe lines to epiphanies, you are a true weaver.

    Oh and my favorite line: “Epiphanies might be everywhere, just waiting for our attention.” Oh yes they are! Thanks so much for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I agree with all above and add my thank you’s. What good advice.

    I was hiking with a friend once and having left the trail were trying to find our way down the mountainside. I friend told me to look for rivulets cut in the soil that indicated the way the water flows, because water always finds the way of least resistance- I’ve never forgotten and often think “how would the water go- even in more imaginal or metaphoric impasses. It always works. I shall meld it with taking your advice about asking the other elements and eager to help spirits which flutter around us awaiting our Ah ha moments with anticipation and delight! Many blessings and many thanks for blessing us with this wisdom piece.

    PS Thanks to to AliB for the Bishop quote. Definite fridge material.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Christine. Wow! I love that question “how would water go?” Taking it to heart. Yes, the Bishop quotation is brilliant, funny, and comforting all at once. Thanks for reading and responding!

      Like

  14. Elizabeth,
    Thanks for your wonderful post which addresses the confusion we are all feeling right now. Your words -“Feminism is not only about gender equality, but about a quality of attention, listening intently not only to people but to all life, including rivers, seas, forests, mountains.” – ring so true for me. As a life long feminist and nature lover I find the two elements strongly intertwined in my consciousness. It is the feminist perspective that can grasp and profit from “a way out of no way”. Like Sara said – we can handle the ambiguity.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you, Judith. Yes, all intertwined for me too. Everyday I try to remember, comprehend that we are the earth and not separate from any of earth’s life. My mind boggles, my heart sings and aches. Yes, we can handle the ambiguities. Let’s!

    Like

  16. Wow, I agree with the great responses to this post. What a grand and illuminating synthesis of so many themes: epiphany, politics, feminism, environmentalism, spiritual practice, and so much more. Especially playfulness! This blog has inspired me to ask for help from tiny divine beings in the way that you describe. As someone with ADD, I spend a significant part of my life looking for lost objects, but never until now have I thought of this as an opportunity to expand my mind. Aha, thanks to you, I’ve had an epiphany!.

    Liked by 1 person

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