Breaking Through on January 6

For centuries, Christians have observed January 6 as the Feast of the Epiphany. As told in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12). God sent a star to guide wise men from the East to the place where Jesus had been born, who, for the three travelers, was a newborn king. Throughout the season of Epiphany (which lasts until the beginning of Lent), there are numerous stories in scripture of God breaking through what is expected, what is considered to be normal and understandable, in order to manifest God’s glory. These manifestations were disorienting to those who beheld them, in that they were not able to unsee what they had seen — and in most cases, and certainly for the Magi, their lives were unalterably changed as a result. In all cases, then as now, we need to choose to see God breaking through; it can’t be forced on us. We choose to see God breaking through —in the dramatic and in the mundane, and then try and make sense of it all.

On January 6, 2021, a mob of Americans, calling themselves patriots, broke through security barriers, windows and locked doors to invade the US Capitol Building, which for over two hundred years has been the citadel of American Democracy. The images of the break-in have been disorienting to the millions who witnessed it as it was happening. It was beyond what was expected, even though it was clear that they had been riled up and goaded — by many forces and voices, to break through decorum and civility and threaten not only the lives of the congresspeople who were at work there, but democracy itself.

A year later the January 6 incident is still disorienting, and as a country we are trying to make sense of it all.

There are some obvious differences between God breaking through the veil between heaven and earth in order to manifest divine glory, and a group of insurgents breaking through the US Capitol. The former invokes blessing; the latter resorts to revenge. God breaking through is a peaceful vision; the rioters were surging with violence. For me, the most important difference between the two ‘break-throughs’ is that the insurrectionists were infected with the virus of certainty. Many were carrying or wearing Christian slogans, scripture passages or symbols — all of which reinforced their mission of certainty. They were convinced they were right, and that inflated sense of rightness, which was fed by certainty, served to justify whatever they did.

Which is more than troubling. Somewhere along the line, most of us have been taught that the opposite of faith is doubt. It isn’t. The opposite of faith is certainty. Certainty leads to rigidity, and certainty fuels the temptation to thwart, dismiss or even destroy those who don’t share the same certainty. Listening gets lost, any notion of reconciliation is dismissed as abject weakness — and certainty leads people to seeing only what they want to see.

The rioters on January 6 were agents of certainty. Their presence in the Capitol was scary then, and the ongoing debate about what to do about it all is scary now.

And yet, if we are truly honest with ourselves, at some level we want certainty. We all carry that virus. Maybe not to the degree that we storm the Capitol, but we desire to have the certainty to know what we should do next and how to do it. To have the certainty to break down complex issues to reveal what is absolutely right, and incontrovertibly wrong.

And God breaks through our desire for certainty — and invites us to listen more deeply, to see more broadly and to live more vulnerably. We arrive at faith not through deduction, but daring to see God breaking through — a vision that can’t be proven by calculus or physics, an aspiration for a hope that is beyond our reach. Faith can be fierce, but it is also fragile. We always need to be opening ourselves up to it. Certainty shuts it down.

More than two centuries ago, John Newton was a wealthy English ship owner. He made his wealth by transporting “cargo” from one continent to another on one of his many ocean-going vessels. One night, as he was looking out over the sea on one of his ships, he had a vision — an epiphany, which he wrote down:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

God broke through to John Newton. He could have dismissed his epiphany as an hallucination, but he didn’t. From the moment of that vision, of seeing God breaking through, his eyes were opened to the evil of his participating in the slave trade, and he shut down his business and became an ardent abolitionist. Visions, which are manifestations of God breaking through, can lead us to commitment and away from certainty. God breaking through guides us to faith, and away from ideology. There is something ephemeral about all of this, which is exactly the point. We have to choose to see it, and risk to embrace it as real — as a vaccination of hope and love from the destructive and disturbing virus of certainty.

And if we miss seeing God breaking through, not to worry. It will happen again.

Recent Posts

Changing the Gun Culture

Changing the Gun Culture

America is awash in guns.  With a little over 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans own 42 percent of the world’s guns.  Gun purchases across the country have skyrocketed.  Restrictions on the carrying and permitting of firearms have eased in many states;...

Election REsults:  Stalemate or Opportunity

Election REsults: Stalemate or Opportunity

The mid-term election results are almost all in.  The Democrats have a slight majority in the Senate, and it looks as though the Republicans will have a slim majority in the House.  Some will say this represents a balance of power; other would argue that it is a...

A Response to the Midterms and Fear

A Response to the Midterms and Fear

I carried a lot of fear into a recently completed five-day canoe trip in the Florida Everglades. Particularly of alligators and pythons, which reportedly lurked throughout the endless mangrove wilderness. Thankfully, they never showed up. The anticipatory fear...

More Guns: A Manifestation of the ‘I’ Culture

More Guns: A Manifestation of the ‘I’ Culture

In half the states in America, it is now legal to openly carry a handgun, without getting a permit or receiving any training.  The New York Times reported on October 26 that the law in Texas, which went into effect in September, 2021, is making law enforcement...

Changing the Gun Culture

America is awash in guns.  With a little over 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans own 42 percent of the world’s guns.  Gun purchases across the country have skyrocketed.  Restrictions on the carrying and permitting of firearms have eased in many states;...

Our Framing Stories: How They Can Free Us or – As In the Club Q Shooting, Can Demonize Us

We are framed by stories.  Our values, horizons and purpose are shaped by the stories that we have heard, read and absorbed.  Some of those stories are constructed – and refracted, to reinforce prejudices and resentments.  While we don’t yet know for sure if the...

Election REsults: Stalemate or Opportunity

The mid-term election results are almost all in.  The Democrats have a slight majority in the Senate, and it looks as though the Republicans will have a slim majority in the House.  Some will say this represents a balance of power; other would argue that it is a...

A Response to the Midterms and Fear

I carried a lot of fear into a recently completed five-day canoe trip in the Florida Everglades. Particularly of alligators and pythons, which reportedly lurked throughout the endless mangrove wilderness. Thankfully, they never showed up. The anticipatory fear...

More Guns: A Manifestation of the ‘I’ Culture

In half the states in America, it is now legal to openly carry a handgun, without getting a permit or receiving any training.  The New York Times reported on October 26 that the law in Texas, which went into effect in September, 2021, is making law enforcement...

Surrendering Into a Portal

Last week, while driving on a highway in the pouring rain, my car spun out of control as I took a turn.  I went around a couple of times and hit the left side retaining wall with my front end.  The collision knocked the car back onto the highway and pointed me...

Invitation to Humility

As our airwaves and platforms are saturated with requests, threats and predictions over the upcoming midterm elections, the unrelenting messaging machines generate visceral reactions, to be sure, but also – maybe, some personal reflection, if not introspection.  What...

Scapegoats, Ego, Soul and Mandorla

In the early rituals of Yom Kippur, (which the Jewish family observed last week on October 5) a goat was presented to the high priest in the holy of holies.  On the goat’s flanks were written the sins of the community – all sorts of scurrilous and cruel thoughts and...

The Importance of Honest and Vulnerable Stories

Our lives are framed by stories.  Stories that we read, hear and see; and stories that we tell – about what we know, what we see, and what we feel.  Yet increasingly over the last several years stories have come under intense scrutiny. In more and more cases, stories...

Religion in the World: A Challenge and an Opportunity

When religion ventures out of its traditional worship space, controversy inevitably ensues. We have seen that recently in Iran where the morality (read religious) police arrested 22 year old Mahsa Amini because her hair was not properly hidden under her hijab. She...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!