On our recent stay in Nelson Bay I remembered an earlier trip to the region a couple of years ago We passed a sign just before the town. It was a simple sign that I had passed many times on trips up this way but I’d never really taken any notice of it. The sign said ‘Lookout’. It was off the main road amongst ordinary houses and I never took it too seriously until one day I became a little curious, had time to waste and wondered what was there. I took the decision and turned off. To my surprise it quickly began a steep incline, a very steep incline as it zigged back and forth up a high hill. As we drove my curiosity increased and we could see further over Nelson Bay and surrounds. Finally we emerged out of the trees into an open space where there was a car park. The day was hot and sunny but also a bit windy and threatened to blow my cap away. As I got out of the car I could already see that this provided a spectacular view for 360 degrees. It was marvellous! We looked out over Port Stephens and were able to identify the many bays and towns that dotted the waterway. Suddenly things became clearer; everything fitted together. There was, in this experience, a revelation or two. The first was that this wonderful lookout emerged out of an ordinary turnoff with a simple sign that seemed rather innocuous. The second was to be able to see how the geography of the region fitted together and to wonder at the natural beauty of the area.
Inspired by this pioneering discovery we ventured eastwards to explore Shoal Bay and found some walk ways around the point. There were signs that explained some of the tracks and one pointed to a lookout on top of the headland. I decided to try it out. It was quite high and the well-constructed pathway led me upwards in a steep ascent. It wasn’t a long track but it took some energy and was a good walk. The foliage covered the path and was quite beautiful. There were bird sounds and the scurrying of lizards and other animals in the undergrowth to the sides of the path. As I ascended, there were glimpses through the trees of wonderful views of golden beaches but nothing prepared me for the spectacular vista that presented itself on top of the headland! The 360 degree views even surpassed the spectacular lookout on the way into Nelson Bay. The waters of the bays were clear and aqua blue, inviting and beautiful. The national park surrounding the small townships was vast and brilliant greens dotted with colour from bushes and flowers. There were hills and valleys leading down to golden beaches with either the flatter water inside Port Stephens or rhythmic waves with their white heads along the coast. I marvelled at the view to which I have returned again and again when visiting the region.
These experiences were both revelations, unexpected manifestations of wonder and delight, of something magnificent beyond my awareness and understanding. Both of these similar experiences could not be contained or captured but must be experienced and lived, allowed to become part of whom I am. They revealed a bigger world of wonder and mystery beyond that which was immediately present and before me in daily life.
I thought of these experiences when I was reminded that this season of the church’s calendar is called ‘Epiphany’. It means revelation or manifestation and is particular in inviting us to consider how we encounter and experience God, the Divine, the Sacred, in our midst. How and where do we encounter that which is Sacred and Holy Mystery in our lives? More than that, how do we make time and space to be aware of and open to such Mystery in the world around us? Are we able to conceive the presence and ‘fingerprints’ of the Divine in the living canvass or tapestry of life and the world?
In the Gospel reading for Sunday (Mark 1:14-20) we encounter the beginning of Jesus’ work and his first words – ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ This little verse contains the essence of Jesus’ life and teaching – to proclaim God’s Reign on earth. This Reign (often called Kingdom) is held up over and against the most powerful kingdom their world had ever known – Rome. In fact, Jesus’ ministry and teaching was ultimately treasonous towards Rome and the Emperor. His words here are an invitation to turn our lives around and discover the Mystery and Wonder at the heart of the universe, to allow the flow of Divine Love to embrace us and imbue our lives with meaning, purpose and grace. This is the Good News of which he speaks! When all other voices and words demand something of us or lead into submission, even oppressive life, Jesus invites us into liberated living where we find ourselves more fully alive, driven by love. Our lives are infused with the raw power of Love that lies at the heart of all being.
For those who heard/hear these words and grasp something of their promise, there is revelation, manifestation and epiphany! I can’t imagine how the poor multitudes of the dominant peasant class in Jesus’ time heard these remarkable words. Jesus promised these people a Kingdom of inclusive life, of hope, joy and peace. In contrast to the world of Rome where their lives were weighed down by heavy taxation, endless work to barely scrape enough for their family and oppressive rules and structures that sucked life from them, Jesus’ promises were delightfully refreshing and liberating. Jesus also revealed that God loved these and all people! This wasn’t always the message people received from the religious authorities then – or today! In everything Jesus did and said there was the implicit and explicit message that God loved and loves!
In the rest of this little passage (beyond these verses) there are the simple accounts of disciples being invited into this life and way, to learn and follow, to believe and live in the way of Jesus. He invites fishermen to leave what they’re doing and to follow, to join this revolution of love and life. They hear, they see and they are moved – there is a real epiphany and a courageous response to follow Jesus and live in a new way. They want to embrace this marvellous Kingdom. As I was filled with wonder and delight at perceiving the Fingerprints of Love in the beautiful vistas around Port Stephens, these disciples (then and now!) perceive God in their midst and such revelations change people and transform lives in profound ways. This is hope for our world. Amidst the shocking violence, terrorism and hatred, along with abuses of power, greed and oppression, the Kingdom and Reign of God quietly emerges as the powerful, hopeful alternative of Love. The disciples encountered, believed and followed. What about you?
(I also wonder what this might say to us as our nation ‘celebrates’ Australia Day? What might we hope for? What do we grieve and find disappointing in our nation’s life? What do we believe needs changing in our national conversation?)