Personal Epiphanies

For many years I thought the only meaning of the word “epiphany” was the name for the Christian holiday observed on Jan. 6 each year, which celebrates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. Later in my life I learned that epiphany has another meaning … the very word had been waiting for to describe the feeling I’ve experienced on certain rare occasions. The Collins English Dictionary gives this second definition of epiphany: “any moment of great or sudden revelation.” The joy of discovering this meaning was an epiphany in itself for me.

One evening many years ago while I was attending a concert of the Springfield, Mo., Symphony Orchestra, I heard for the first time Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro.” A harpist was the soloist, and that in itself was a rare occasion.The only person in town (with a population of about 70,000 at the time) I’d ever heard of who had learned to play the harp was a young lady who’d had to take the train all the way to St. Louis to have lessons. It was either she or a guest soloist (I don’t remember now who it was) who played the principal part in Ravel’s composition.

Before that night, my favorite composers were Bach and Debussy. But “Introduction and Allegro” was a revelation. I seemed to visualize deep woods where sunlight casts slanting pillars of light. The music opened a window in my soul and still does whenever I hear it. In short, it was an epiphany, a feeling so deep and rich I knew I would always remember it.

When I lived in Springfield, there was only one art museum on the north side of town, which wasn’t very accessible to those of us who lived south of the Square, the center of town. The museum’s collection was necessarily modest, due to limited funding. For someone like me who had lived in southwestern Missouri all her life and had never traveled farther than Kansas City and St. Louis, I’d never had a chance to view great art.

One year, though, I received a portfolio of art prints as a bonus from the Book-of-the-Month Club. Included was a reproduction of El Greco’s “View of Toledo.” I felt almost as if I’d been struck by lightning the first time I saw it. I don’t know why that picture gave me such a feeling of intense awe. I could almost hear the sounds of timpani and thunder when I stared at it. I instinctively realized that the city in the distance wasn’t of this world. It seemed to be a very mystical, Old Testament sort of painting.

“View of Toledo” startled me profoundly. It could have been a vision of Judgment Day by an artist steeped in medieval imagery. I think this painting gave me a glimpse of how great art can bring about a powerful response from a viewer. In my case, this epiphany instilled in me a life-long appreciation of paintings by great artists and a special interest in El Greco.

I’ve been an Anglophile almost all my life. I think this admiration began when I read “Wuthering Heights” when I was only 10 years old and too young to understand it fully. Like Emily Dickinson, I’d “never seen a moor” or “a foggy night in Londontown,” but I was so besotted, I began to save my allowance to go to England someday. Unfortunately, the money didn’t stay very long in my world globe bank. I was in my 50s when I finally landed on English soil. It was hard to believe that I was really in the land of the Bronte sisters and Samuel Pepys, to say nothing of Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter. To be in the country my Quaker ancestors had left to escape persecution and the threat of prison was unbelievable. One of them had come to London from America as a missionary and was buried in the Dissenters Cemetery in London.

One cold, damp day in March when my friend B. and I had walked up Ludgate Hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the realization of where I was struck me so suddenly that I had to plop down on a bench to take a deep breath and try to slow down my heartbeats. I was on the very site of Old St. Paul’s, the epicenter of The City. This was the actual locale where the Great Fire of London in 1666 began that destroyed Old St. Paul’s and most of the buildings in medieval London. I was here at last! I think I said a prayer of Thanksgiving for being able to realize one of my life’s greatest dreams.

I’m so grateful I’ve had these personal epiphanies and a few more at times during my lifetime. There’s a spiritual dimension to them, assuredly. They have given me such joy and sudden insights that I feel blessed to have experienced them. They have been torches to lighten my way onto new paths of  learning and discovery.