Charlie Cleverly, Rector of St. Aldates, Oxford, publishes his latest book: ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’.
The author continues to perfect his writers’ craft, which has already been appreciated in works such as ‘The Discipline of Intimacy’ and ‘The Passion that Shapes Nations’. In the latter he collates the accounts of Christian martyrs through history, from Peter and Paul to members of the underground Church in China and North Korea today. He has received critical acclaim for his care to not neglect the Roman Catholic Church, nor to vilify Roman Catholicism in the years following the Reformation. Now he continues to offer his insight and wisdom through his latest work.
A New Picture
With an eye-catching title and front cover, ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’ is off to a good start in terms of capturing the reader’s attention. Many of us will be familiar with the ‘The Epiphany’ - the celebration that occurs every year on January 6th. Children in some countries look forward to this as the day on which they open presents, rather than on Christmas Day as is traditional in the UK.
This is not a book on present-opening though, nor is it even one that bases its teaching the story of the Wise Men (or Magi). Rather, it is concerned with the comprehension or realisation that is epiphany - a ‘light bulb moment’ if you like.
In the opening stages, the author goes so far as to state ‘without epiphany I am only partly alive’. So important is epiphany to Charlie Cleverly, that without it he feels that life would be incomplete... this seems quite odd. Perhaps the majority of us view epiphany in somewhat hazy terms, and with further thought we might attach this type of epiphany to far off scenarios where Archimedes jumps from the bath shouting ‘Eureka!’ or when Martin Luther uncovered justification by faith alone in his ‘Tower Experience’. However, this is the ‘Epiphany of the Ordinary’ and Cleverly is referring to you and I.
Splitting his book into three parts, Cleverly outlines explains his message in terms of ‘Come’, ‘Abide’ and ‘Go’. The first section focuses more on what epiphany is, and how we might come across it in our daily lives. The second section moves more towards the implications of epiphany in different situations, and the experience and value of epiphany in reaction to changing circumstances. Finally, the missional and more intentional/active outworkings of epiphany are explored.
Taking example chapters, I’ll try to give you a clearer idea of the content:
Chapter 1, ‘Unveiling’ - the opening to the book, this chapter is a comprehensive introduction to the concept and gives some instruction on how ‘unveiling’ can occur. Epiphany is defined not as a vision for the future, but as a sudden and exciting comprehension of an aspect of God’s character, often His love. To experience this, it is helpful to be quiet and follow a simple strategy of ‘Stop, Look, Listen’ that enables you be contemplative, and find meaning through prayer and biblical meditation.
Chapter 5, ‘Love’ establishes the premise that the meaning of life is popularly linked to the concept of love. From The Beatles’ hit ‘All You Need Is Love’ to Augustine’s motto ‘Love and do as you please’ we are never far from an interpretation that to love and be loved is something we can find meaning in as human beings. Cleverly offers his own perspective, citing Jesus’ teaching that the two most important commandments are: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.
Chapter 6 advocates ‘Contemplation’ - as suggested in the opening pages of the book, epiphany will often come when we take time to be quiet. Meditation in the Christian sense consists of filling oneself with biblical truths, rather than emptying oneself of imperfection, as is pursued in a number of Eastern religions.
The second section ‘Abiding’ contains chapter nine: ‘Surviving’, which concerns how we should respond to suffering. Cleverly notes that God is familiar with our suffering - Jesus’ torture and crucifixion mean that he knows what it is like to suffer in the most extreme ways. Furthermore, God’s all-knowing nature and his deep interest in us mean that he relates closely to our suffering. Realising this, Cleverly compels us to be reassured by God’s love for us, which can be revealed through epiphany.
From the third section ‘Go’ comes the thirteenth chapter ‘Teaching: Serving the Poor’. Cleverly recounts from his own experience the value of serving the poor, also citing Jackie Pullinger, who suggests that ‘serving the poor is patronising; serving among the poor lets you admit you are one of them’. Also, Mother Teresa’s epiphany is given as an example of epiphany - her inspiration to enter lifelong service was a vision of Christ on the cross saying ‘I thirst’.
Chapter eighteen, ‘Departing’ is the final chapter I will review here. This chapter is concerned with ‘finishing well’; it highlights that epiphany is not only for the youth and young people. The author despairs in the way in which the older are neglected as hype and vision surrounds young people. From the leader of a church whose population is mostly made up of students, this is surprising and refreshing. In ‘Departing’ the fear of death is confronted, and the value of those approaching death is reaffirmed.
The Bigger Picture
Having touched lightly on six chapters out of the eighteen, it goes without saying (almost) that there is plenty we can learn from this book. Cleverly’s book is very wide-ranging in the areas of life that it covers, sharing the beauty of epiphany and its uncomplicated helpfulness in allowing us to realise God’s love.
Cleverly’s easily understandable style relays his information well, getting points across simply without trivialising their importance. The focus is on communication of an idea to the everday reader, rather than the establishment of an academic argument. For a university student like myself, the humility evident in Charlie’s writing is very refreshing.
A book for you to read, a book for you to enjoy, and a book for you to share. ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’.
March 27th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Peter Harrison