This epiphany happened just as I sat down to write. However, several events preceded it that, in retrospect, are significant elements in the reality the story reflects.
One element was a soft, faded thrift-store napkin I had left carelessly crumpled on my desk.
Another element was the God-managed solar calendar that determined that on this day early morning autumn sunlight, traveling a complex journey, reached my study at a specific moment.
Still another part of the epiphany was a cup, actually a coffee mug that once lived in my sister’s kitchen, and had come to this house only after her death and by an unexpected path.
I cannot overemphasize the utter absence of drama in the setting or the moment.
I was wearing everyday jeans and a raggedy favorite old sweater and—truth be told—hair brushed only once-over-lightly. Annie was taking a nap in her ‘secret’ corner in the garage. The house was Saturday quiet.
Then the coffee pot beeped, signaling that the brewing process was complete. I picked up the mug on the counter, filled it, and muddled my way into my study preparing to begin work on this week’s blog.
It happened without a sound.
I set the mug down on my desk and pushed it up against a fold of the faded napkin. Suddenly a shaft of sunlight from the high east window reached into the mirrored back of the china cabinet and ricocheted into my study. Instantly in that light, napkin, cup and desktop combined to make a Rembrandt to my astonished surprise.
Without marked time or movement, that shadowed place became utterly filled with light and color. The image that they formed was so vibrantly alive that it filled the stillness without sound.
It was visually beyond explanation—the dusky purple of the glaze on the mug and the faded purple of the napkin must have both come off the same palette, both mixed by the same painter’s brush.
And only the painter who mixed that purple could have also mixed the muted reds in the border glaze on that old mug, then showed those reds again in the faded warp and woof of that old cloth.
That same painter must have envisioned the transformation of that old flea-market napkin into tapestry. But that light—not even Rembrandt could have imagined such light, light in which those muted purples and reds came fully alive and filled that shadowed space.
To explain the astonishing confluence of color, shape and light by proposing a master painter was clearly absurd. I was faced with the paradox of seeing clearly what I could not explain.
The light held for only a brief moment. Then the massive movement of the stars shifted imperceptibly to fill some other shadowed place, perhaps to light some galaxy I cannot know.
When I sat down to cherish in my mind the incredible beauty I had just observed, my cortex (ever the analyzer) was struck by the element of randomness that formed the context of the experience.
From weaver (unknown) to potter (unknown) to flea market (unknown)—from infinite unplanned options and possibilities there emerged a purple napkin with that muted red thread in the woof, together with a purple glazed mug, its hidden red a powerful connection with that napkin tapestry.
These elements came together at that particular moment when it was physically possible for that particular light to reach them.
How was it that randomness of such mind-boggling immensity produced a still-life that made pale imitations of all Rembrandts and Renoirs I have ever seen?
Randomness is a strong, sturdy word that serves a useful purpose when thoughtfully chosen. In its more formal sense, randomness describes movement, structure, or events that occur without a perceivable plan, purpose, or pattern. Random behavior is viewed as behavior that lacks definite aim, a fixed goal or a regular procedure.
Randomness is sometimes skewed to mean a mindless, goalless process from which destruction comes. This is a serious semantic error (an error propagated by those enlightenment folk who presupposed that good came only from controlled, planned, purposeful action). Randomness per se is not inevitably the source or means of destruction. But it is an uncontrolled factor, and that alone is enough to make most of us suspicious of it.
Uncomfortable though the idea may be, it seems to me that honesty requires us to recognize the presence of randomness in life events, including epiphanies.
Many factors occurring without a fixed plan, purpose or pattern (randomness in operation) resulted in mug, napkin, light and me arriving at that lighted space at the same moment. This epiphany clearly embraced randomness, although that is not all that can—or should—be said about it.
Nevertheless, acknowledging randomness is a necessary precursor to recognizing a second and amazing phenomena—the emergence of hope.
Thinking with you today that randomness—like most of the powerful forces of life—is a both/and business. Things may not turn out well—but on the other hand, there is another alternative that, in fairness, must also be considered. Randomness may produce an unpredictable good.
So I hold close this moment of random beauty even as I finish up today’s blog and prepare to take mug to the dishwasher and napkin to the laundry.
This moment births hope.
By God’s merciful use of randomness, in the end the tired fragments of my scattered life may be assembled in His light into a beauty that I cannot now anticipate nor comprehend.
See you next week.