and THOMAS MERTON
(This is an old church newsletter column I wrote about 4 years ago...)
Two friends were talking…
“It was an epiphany I tell you!” I exclaimed.
“That’s impossible! Epiphany is in January, you fool! It is Lent.
And Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter are almost here,” the
“No, not an epiphany with a capital E…a small e. You know, one
of those ‘everyday’ epiphanies – a manifestation with a deeper
meaning,” I replied.
“Nope, not me. Never had one of those.”
It was a balmy Saturday afternoon, and as long as I was heading
over to Brighton Park anyway, I figured I would make a quick
stop at Watra. Watra is a Church Goods store. That’s where we
buy our ashes for Ash Wednesday, Palms for Palm Sunday and
a variety of other items that we use throughout the church year.
As you may know, I'm an avid reader, but although I’d been
to Watra many times before, I'd never stopped to look in the
book section. Today seemed a good day to do this.
Now the book section is on the first floor, with big picture
windows that overlook busy Archer Avenue. Because of the
unusually warm weather, there were many passersby. Just
as I came out of one aisle of books, something caught my eye
outside the store. Far to the right, I thought I saw Jesus. No,
it couldn’t be. The windows were a little dirty so I was sure I
was seeing things. Nope, wait…is he carrying a cross? Yes, He is!
There was Jesus, standing outside of Watra looking in. He
appeared to be a mid-twenties Hispanic male with long stringy
dark hair. He was wearing a wrinkled robe of shiny, royal
purple cloth. Over one shoulder he carried a four-foot cross.
And there he was, looking in the window at communion
dresses marked “50% off.”
All this happened in about the space of 10 seconds, but I
felt as if I had been taring for 10 minutes. I looked around
to see if anyone else had spotted Jesus, but everyone was
too busy shopping to notice. Just when I thought that it
must be my eyes playing a trick on me, I saw the front door
of the store open. In walked Jesus with his cross. Now
surely the other shoppers would notice Him.
To my great surprise, everyone just kept on shopping.
Oh sure, there were a few glances at Him, but just as
quickly folks went back to their tasks at hand. I was
sure that at any moment Allen Funt was going to drop
from the ceiling and tell me that I was on “Candid Camera.”
Not wanting to stand out, I gathered my purchases
together and went to the cash register. By this time,
Jesus was further back in the store, out of my sight
line. Just as the cashier was handing me my change,
I felt a presence behind me. Not wanting to be obvious,
I resisted the urge to look. But as I grabbed my bag
of goods, I did a half-turn. Sure enough, there was
Jesus, behind me in line, waiting to purchase...
a pecan brownie.
Why did I react the way I did? How would you have
reacted? Why didn’t anyone, myself included, speak
to Jesus? What if this had really been our Savior? Have
I blown my chances of getting into Heaven? And
what's the deal with the pecan brownie?
Upon further reflection, I concluded that this was
an epiphany. It was an event that occurred in order
to make a larger point in my life. It caused me to recall
the epiphany experienced by Thomas Merton.
Merton was a Cistercian monk who lived at the
Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky. He was
a prolific author on topics of religion, ethics and
spirituality, ahead of his time, who died in 1968.
One of the most famous quotations from Merton
relates to the epiphany he experienced while
walking in downtown Louisville, Kentucky:
“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...There is no way of telling people
that they are all walking around shining like
Was this man who portrayed Jesus in the store
any MORE like Jesus on the inside than any of
the other customers? Isn’t God at the core of
all of us? Perhaps this man provided all the
message I needed, without even exchanging
words. Shouldn’t I recognize the Holy within
EVERY person EVERY day? Unfortunately,
I thought of all these questions long AFTER
I had run into Jesus on busy Archer Avenue.
I wish I 'd thought of them then.
Now, I find these thoughts bring to mind the
famous prayer by Thomas Merton:
“Dear God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot
know for certain where it will end. Nor do I
really know myself...and the fact that I think
that I am following Your will does not mean
that I am actually doing so. But I believe this:
I believe that the desire to please You does in
fact please You. I hope I have that desire in
everything I do. I hope I never persist in
anything apart from that desire. And I know
that if I do this You will lead me by the
right road, though I may know nothing
about it at the time. Therefore I will trust
You always, for though I may be lost - and
in the shadow of death – I will not be
afraid, because I know You will never leave
me to face my troubles all alone.”
We can all take comfort from this prayer. We
are not perfect here on earth. Though
imperfect, God so loved us that an offspring
was sent in human form. Imperfect humans
persecuted and crucified this gift from God.
But, the gift of forgiveness endures because o
f this death. And through forgiveness, the
gift of God’s love is apparent. The key is in
understanding that it is available for the asking.
God knows when we seek the Creator’s love.
One need only be open to it. Perhaps that is what
Merton knew when he wrote of God as
"mercy within mercy within mercy."
During this Holy Season, and always, take the
time to see God in one another.