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EPIPHANY: Celebrating Moments of Truth

Realizing that you're happy in your own skin, where you're meant to be, glad to be shod of something unhealthy, and everything is going to be OK, is a profound truth.
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In the Christian calendar, today is the Feast of the Epiphany, or, as I like to think of it, the feast of Aha!

It's the 12th Day of Christmas, the end of Christmastide, God's Big Reveal.

Depending on what part of Christendom you hail from -- East or West, for instance -- the Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the three Persian Magis' visit to the newborn Jesus and/or the public baptism of the adult Jesus by John the Baptist.

Both events mark the same thing, essentially: Jesus' introduction to the world as the Son of God, divine, the Savior, the Chosen One, in whom -- God said in a voice-over as a dove flew through the sky while John dunked Jesus in the Jordan River, according to Scripture -- God was well-pleased.

An epiphany, in its strictly religious sense, is when the Divine reveals something to a person (or to humanity).

In a more secular sense (if you believe in a distinction between the spiritual and the supposedly secular), an epiphany is a sudden realization. Of the big picture. Of something hidden. Of the missing puzzle piece. Of clarity in the midst of chaos.

Of the true meaning, a heart's desire, a calling, a lesson. Of the reason why.

Epiphanies can be monumental or barely discernable. But they can change everything. Always a surprise, they creep up on us when we're not paying attention, appearing to be serendipitous but in fact divinely designed and deployed.

When the poet William Wordsworth wrote about epiphany in his masterpiece "The Prelude," he describes them as sometimes arriving "by chance collisions and quaint accidents."

They are as indelible as they are fleeting, mere glimpses of the eternal or transcendent. Wordsworth described them like a strobe of light that "gleams like the flashing of a shield."

A few weeks back, on the first Sunday of Advent, our parish priest reminded us that in Advent we are asked to "keep awake," to be watchful, to be alert and look for signs of what is coming next.

All of that waiting and watching ends today, with an epiphany.

As we begin a new year, many of us are wondering -- perhaps anxiously, after the doozy of a year 2008 was -- what will happen.

When will the real change begin? What will happen in Gaza? When will peace arrive? When will our hopes be fulfilled? What do we do now?

Will I find real love? Will I have a job? Will we have a baby? Will I be healthy? Will I be happy? When?

Keep your eyes peeled. An epiphany may be just around the next corner.

On Monday, I checked in with Kathy, one of my closest friends, to compare our respective New Year's celebrations. Hers in New York City. Mine in snowy Ontario.

Last year, Kathy went through a horrendous divorce. The kind Lifetime miniseries are made of. Awful, with a capital A. But she survived and is stronger, happier, healthier and surprised by a kind of joy she never could have anticipated.

As she recounted this year's festivities, Kathy found herself looking back on last New Year's Eve -- when 2007 flipped to 2008.

"I had gone to a friend's apartment for a very low-key night. [My ex] had my kids that week. I remember leaving their place right after midnight and walking the nine blocks down back to my empty apartment. As I watched all the drunk, puking 20-somethings all around me, I was overcome by a feeling that everything was going to be OK," she said.

"That was the first time I had felt that since the whole breakup and divorce had started. I was so glad I was me, and my life was mine. I wanted to throw my hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore and sing 'I'm going to make it after all,' " she said. "It was really cool to realize that moment was a whole year ago."

And that was her epiphany.

"I hope that we all can have those moments this year," she told me.

Amen, sister.

Some folks will argue that those kinds of epiphanies are emotional or intellectual, that they occur outside the realm of the religious or the spiritual.

But I was taught that all truth -- no matter what about, who says it or where it comes from -- is God's truth.

Realizing that you're happy in your own skin, where you're meant to be, glad to be shod of something (or someone) unhealthy, and everything is going to be OK (despite all sorts of evidence to the contrary), is a profound truth. A divine truth.

So, on this Feast of the Epiphany, even if the Christian tradition is not yours, be on the lookout for what John Milton called "everyday epiphanies" -- for those flashes of clarity, insight, truth and light that can, the poet said, "change forever how we experience life and the world."

When the "Aha!" comes, and it will, seize it and hold on tightly -- even after the glimmer is gone.

Cathleen Falsani is religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of the new book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.