Thursday, January 15, 2015

WALKING EPIPHANY at the University of Notre Dame : neighborhood notes from Bob Woodberry

Welcome to a special Epiphany series of guest posts.  I've asked a few friends who live (literally) around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods and share some of what they see through photos, videos and words.  I've asked them to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods.  Will you join us?

What is Epiphany?

In Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, author Bobby Gross reminds us that the liturgical season of Epiphany brings the themes of light to a culmination.  In Advent we cry out with Isaiah for the pople who walk in darkenss to see the promised light.  In Christmas we celebrate the coming of that Light in the birth of Jesus.  In Epiphany we recognize that the gift of Light is for the whole world as illustrated by the arrival of Magi from the East to the Jewish home of Mary and Joseph.  

Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world.  He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God. Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism).  All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.  
Jesus often follows these revelations (or “epiphanies”) with the command to “Go and tell”.  
“The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declaires, ‘I am the light o fhte world,’ says to us, ‘You are the light of the world.’ (Bobby Gross)

Lastly, two cultural practices are percolating in my imagination as I'm thinking about Epiphany:  the Blessing of the Home and the Beating of the Bounds.  They are not universally practiced, but intrigue me in our own attempts to live the visible life of Jesus-followers in our own neighborhoods.

Each of my guest posters selected a few prompts from a big ol' list I sent them (inspired by an overflowing folder of quotes I've saved from the Daily Asterisk).  They combined those prompts with photos and videos and observations from their own neighborhood.  I'm excited for you to follow along and please let me know if you'd like to contribute your own Walking Epiphany travel diary.


Robert Woodberry
University at Notre Dame

Prompt: Local ground

The likeliest path to the ultimate ground leads through my local ground. I mean the land itself, with its creeks and rivers, its weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, and all the plants and animals that share it. I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded in a place.
Scott Russell Sanders

University of Notre Dame, Two people walking down a path outside the Hesburgh Center

A corner of the Hesburgh Center, University of Notre Dame

Prompt: Dim light and shadow

How much more mysterious and inviting is the street of an old town with its alternating realms of darkness and light than are the brightly and evenly lit streets of today! The imagination and daydreaming are stimulated by dim light and shadow. In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocused gaze. Homogenous bright light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenisation of space weakens the experience of being, and wipes away the sense of place. The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight. Mist and twilight awaken the imagination by making visual images unclear and ambiguous.

Juhani Pallasmaa

Prompt: What is important

The availability of places where we are invited to stop and enjoy our rest provides a tacit reminder of what is important. If these places invite us to stay because we are consumers or producers, we will learn to see ourselves as valuable only insofar as we contribute to the economy. If our public spaces are ugly or inconvenient, we learn tacitly that our value as human beings is minimal.

Eric Jacobsen

A woman praying at the Grotto, University of Notre Dame

A man lighting a candle at the Grotto, University of Notre Dame. People light candles when they say prayers.

A poem


I could see it coming: 

The first blush of orange through tree-gaps, 

the clouds like sand ripples at low tide, 

waiting their baptism in light;

when the dying sun draws out the grain of the universe 

like fresh tung oil on rosewood, 

if rosewood were made of fire. 

I scramble to the roof to stare 

- alone. 

The grumble of buses laboring up the hill 

dissolves to the silence beauty imposes on our senses 

- as if there's only room for this one thing. 

A couple joins me.

They feel like friends 

- linked to me by wonder, 

called out from the mass streaming home below, 


Sharing Christ’s body broken.  
                                -- Robert Woodberry

Robert Woodberry attended Christ Church of Austin for several years before moving to Singapore to teach political science at the National University of Singapore. He is currently spending a year-long research fellowship at the University of Notre Dame writing up his research about the social impact of Christian missionaries. He exercises his artistic yearnings through swing dancing, taking photographs, writing poetry, scripture reading, and collecting art with religious themes.

You can read about Bob's fascinating research in this article at Christianity Today: The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries by Andrea Palpant Dilley
Also in the American Political Science Review: The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy

And here's an interesting video about the history of the University of Notre Dame.


What about your neighborhood?

  • What would we see, hear, smell, etc if we walked around a block in your neighborhood? 
  • What does the light look like at different times in your neighborhood?

  • What sort of public "rest stops" are available in your neighborhood? Are they used well or barely noticed?

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