We are used to the imagery of God communicating by God’s word, and so we think of our responses to God as aural: we listen. And obedience (from obaudiens) can be translated as “intense hearing.” Yet how much of the religion of ancient Israel was a priestly religion of presence! We forget that one of the central images of God’s communication in the scriptures is that of the shining face. From the priestly blessing of Numbers 6 to the continuous references in the psalms, it is expected that worshipers will see the radiance of God’s face, and that in its light they too will shine.
The Greek word for this radiance, this shining of the face, is epifaneia, or epiphany, and it was by no means only a benign thing. Promises of the Day of the Lord warn that its coming will be exceedingly dreadful, or awe-full (epifanhz). All this visual imagery is at the center of today’s great feast of Epiphany.
James Alison is the author of Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal (Continuum) and a forthcoming adult introduction to the Christian faith, The Forgiving Victim: An Induction into Christian Vulnerability.