Gabby Opened Her Eyes and We Should Too

01/14/2011 08:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Diana Butler Bass Author, "Grounded: Finding God in the World -- A Spiritual Revolution"

"Gabby opened her eyes."

When President Obama uttered these simple words, the crowd at the Tucson memorial service cheered wildly. "Gabby opened her eyes."

Four simple words. Four very spiritual words.

Congresswoman Giffords was shot at the beginning of the Christian season called Epiphany. This year, Epiphany lasts until March 8, the day before Ash Wednesday. The word, epiphany, means "manifestation," "revelation," or "unveiling." As it follows Christmas, it is the time of the year in which Christians consider how God has appeared to us, where God is seen, and how God is made manifest in the world. Epiphany, its primary symbol the star, is about seeing the light.

Ms. Giffords is, of course, Jewish. Although Epiphany is a Christian season, its roots are found in the Hebrew Bible. Abraham, Moses, Joshua and many of the prophets experienced "epiphanies," where God appeared to them. Indeed, the Jewish festival of Hanukah is an epiphany celebration -- the light of God is seen here on earth. Early Christians borrowed the word epiphaneia from the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures where it referred to the visible presence of God in the world. Along with the star, the other symbol of Epiphany is the magi, the ancient wise men who were not Jews, who went on a journey to see the infant named Immanuel, or God-with-us. Indeed, the Christian season of Epiphany celebrates God made manifest to the whole world, that God was no longer a distant God or only the God of the ancient Israelites -- but that God is, indeed, visible to all who open their eyes.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs: we are all searchers following stars, looking for the presence of God in the world. Opening our eyes is a sign of life, one of the first things tiny babies do when after they make their way into the world. But opening our eyes also symbolizes our common humanity -- the search for love, meeting the healing looks of family and friends, God's presence in others, the light that shines throughout the world, and finding goodness in all the places we find ourselves along the way.

The opposite is the case as well. Closing our eyes is a sign of the end, of death. And it is also a symbol of giving up, of not looking, of resignation. Shutting our eyes is akin to turning our souls away from God, our loved ones, our neighbors.

When we open our eyes, we will see light and beauty. We will see the caring faces of loved ones. But opening our eyes, we will also see suffering and pain and violence. We see the steady gaze of a loving spouse; we also see the sinister glare of a deranged shooter. Open eyes see both. And in all that we see, God's presence is somehow there. Comforting, healing: yes. But often seeing God is a call as well. A call to transform our world into God's vision for humankind. God made manifest in the world; we must manifest God in the world.

Gabby opened her eyes. May we also open ours and see the glory that shines round about us. And, when we open our eyes, may we not only cheer, but also be inspired, in the words of a traditional Epiphany prayer, "to contribute wisdom and good works for the benefit of the whole family." Amen.

Read more from Diana Butler Bass on beliefnet.