We are in Epiphany season now and yesterday the pastor, who normally bakes an Epiphany cake and brings it to church for the kiddies, didn’t have time as she arrived back in town from a long trip only the day before. So she improvised and had the kids comes up front where she presided at a table on which were small placards and markers and instructed the children on the tradition of blessing the house at Epiphany and how this was written and the placard placed over the door of the home.
So she did this, and the kids wrote, and then the pastor handed out brownies, “Epiphany brownies” and she said she had hidden things in these brownies, like—raisons in some of them, nuts in others, and in one brownie, there was a baby Jesus. And sure enough, one child soon discover the baby Jesus and he was revealed, the brownie stripped away, and the child gave the baby Jesus to the pastor.
Anyway, so now we’re in Epiphany and for some reason I thought of Martin Buber's Ich und Du, usually translated I and Thou in which he famously suggests that humans approach their existence in two ways, an I-It construction which is the world of sensory impressions and experience; and/or the I-Thou configuration, in which we experience life in terms of relationships without limits.
Whereas the I-It expression of existence is accessed through sensory perception, the I-Thou relationship is experienced only via the mind and the spirit.
Epiphany is a good time to re-read Buber because his thought links well to the idea of unveiling that which is hidden, and the beginning of new relationship or dimension, the Divine to the Human and the Human to the Divine.
Actually, Carson McCuller’s got me thinking along these lines through her book The Member of the Wedding, published 1945. I just finished reading it. The main character of the book is Frankie Addams, who is 12 years old and feels “unjoined” to everything. While other girls her age belong to this club or that, she’s not a member of anything, and is not sure what it is that excludes her. And she doesn’t understand why her black (“colored”) maid is likewise excluded and marginalized.
So Frankie longs to belong, and when her older brother and his girlfriend announce their engagement, Frankie realizes how much she loves the idea of the wedding, because she belongs to it, and her brother and his new wife are the “we of you and me.” The three of them, she imagines, will live happily ever after.
It would be awful to live life without someone or someones who become our “we.” To not ever be able to say “we” would be a life without relationship, a life of isolation. But to use the first person plural to expression many relationship—that implies a rich and meaningful life.
Epiphany, then, can be an opportunity in our journey to Ash Wednesday, to rediscover the hidden or under-appreciated “we’s” in our life, or the “Thou’s” as Buber puts it. The good news is that Jesus Christ is revealed as the ultimate You of we and me, and that further, the Church can provide on a human level a forum, context or venue in which I-Thou and you-we-me relationships can be formed.
This similarity of thought in McCullers and Buber is so striking that I wonder if McCullers read Martin Buber’s work. It was written in 1923 I think, but wasn’t translated into English until 1937. McCullers published her book in 1945, but it took her five years to write it, meaning she started work on the book only three years after Buber's work appeared in English. So the connection is clearly possible, and the I-Thou thought would have been a novel idea at that time.