Category Archives: Epiphany

29th day of Lent. Monica, Shining Like the Sun.

“I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman.’ I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it: it was easy to forget that that woman was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.”

Those words are from Monica Lewinsky’s  TED talk, “The Price of Shame.” When she says them in her talk, the stillness in the auditorium where she’s speaking reaches through the screen and envelopes you.

“Tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman.'” Those ten words helped me stand in her shoes. She could have stopped right there. I was already finding myself in her story.

As she told her story, these words gave me a window into how difficult her experience was during this time:

“Let me paint a picture for you. It is September of 1998. I’m sitting in a windowless office room inside the Office of the Independent Counsel underneath humming fluorescent lights. I’m listening to the sound of my voice, my voice on surreptitiously taped phone calls that a supposed friend had made the year before. I’m here because I’ve been legally required to personally authenticate all 20 hours of taped conversation. For the past eight months, the mysterious content of these tapes has hung like the Sword of Damocles over my head. I mean, who can remember what they said a year ago? Scared and mortified, I listen, listen as I prattle on about the flotsam and jetsam of the day; listen as I confess my love for the president, and, of course, my heartbreak; listen to my sometimes catty, sometimes churlish, sometimes silly self being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth; listen, deeply, deeply ashamed, to the worst version of myself,a self I don’t even recognize.

A few days later, the Starr Report is released to Congress, and all of those tapes and transcripts, those stolen words, form a part of it. That people can read the transcripts is horrific enough, but a few weeks later, the audio tapes are aired on TV, and significant portions made available online. The public humiliation was excruciating. Life was almost unbearable.”

Her courage blew me away. The stage she’s standing on isn’t just a TED stage, she knows that. As she says during the talk, “I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” In choosing to speak in this way what she’s essentially saying to the world is “I’m a person like you. What you did to me–or let others do–and do today when you bully them and/or click through to sites that bully or spread gossip, isn’t right, has a real cost, and needs to end.” [That’s me summarizing her speech.]

Late in the speech she calls for people to be “Upstanders.”

The theory of minority influence, proposed by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, says that even in small numbers, when there’s consistency over time, change can happen. In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.”

The reference, “upstanders” reminded me of Thomas Merton’s book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. There are moments of reverie in Merton’s book that are wonderful. Passages like this one help me understand how off-target we are when we shame people like Lewinsky. Off-target because there is so much we have in common. So much that we might otherwise celebrate were it not for the effects of original sin which blind us from what is obvious. Which keep us from seeing at each other with eyes like these:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . .

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts when neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.” ~ Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p171.

The contrast is incredible. The task for me–for each of us–is to think about the Monica’s of our lives. Not because we should fall down and worship them. No. Our goal is to find them as they are, our personal Monica’s, walking around shining like the sun.

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Coming, Going, And Epiphany.

I love things that make me stop and take note. There’s an East European tradition of blessing homes for the Epiphany and marking the lintel above the front door with an inscription written in blessed chalk. The ritual can involve the blessing of each room in the house as well. I’ve read stories about clergy who wandered through towns carrying chalk, holy water, and a step ladder. While having chalk that’s blessed and holy water to sprinkle, and even the presence of clergy is a clear way of showing that what is happening is sacramental, it’s not the easiest thing to arrange. Especially at the last minute.

Still, the idea of beginning the year by thinking about the things I want to take place in the rooms of my home? The ways I want to be? The ways I’d like us to be? Where will my family come together to be quiet? Where will we be still? My family is as busy as most. I can’t imagine that the day will come where we pay someone to create that space. But, you never know. I like the idea of talking about what our mealtime should be like. Of sharing our hopes for what happens to the people who sleep and play and do homework in each room. Of asking my kids about their hopes. Naming and claiming each room together might be a wonderful family activity.

If you’re inspired, why not bring this Epiphany tradition to life this weekend? Bless your home and mark it with chalk: 20+C+M+B+12. The numbers match the year and the letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar; they also stand for the Latin, “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”, which means, “May Christ bless this house.”

The crosses remind us of Christ, and the holiness of the magi. You write the words above the front door, so that every time you come and go, you are reminded of what you claimed, and of the blessing.

How you do it can be as simple as praying the Lord’s prayer together, asking God to bless everyone in the family, and everyone who visits this year. Then you write the inscription above your front door with chalk. Everyone can write part of the inscription, too. Want a prayer that’s already written? You can find a few options here.

I like the idea of revisiting the claims for God’s blessing, each time I see the markings on the lintel. Part of that is because I don’t have any memory of successfully keeping a resolution made once, and late at night. You know the ones I am referring to. Well, aside from writing the correct year on checks. Every year I have to learn that one over, and over, again. It’s not that I’m not trying. The repetition helps. If I didn’t write it again and again, I’m not sure the change would sink in.

That matches the sense I have, that most of the time, that change happens step by step. It’s incremental, the product of ongoing reflection, and action with intention. I choose again, and again, and again, the way a painting comes together, brush stroke after brush stroke.

Parker Palmer says that the call of Christmas is “to be born and born and re-born, again, and again, and again.” A few weeks ago I wrote, about the “yes” we give each other, and the “yes” that babies require, because they’re so delicate, and fragile. When we have the courage to be ourselves, in those moments, I think we’re as delicate as babies. And yet as they grow up, or as our marriage partnerships continue, we can forget that simple truth.

All the more reason to stop and consider who it is that we share our lives with, as we come and go.