Michael Whelan SM
In 2006, the German film, The Lives of Others, was released. It is a brilliant film, one of the best I have ever seen. The film is set in East Germany in the mid-1980s. The main character is a member of the dreaded Stasi – a man called Gerd Wiesler. He is ordered to spy on a playwright – Georg Dreyman – and his artist friends. They are considered enemies of the state The spying consists of bugging the unit where the artists gather and listening to their conversations.
Wiesler himself takes his turn listening from the attic of an adjacent building. In the course of the spying, Wiesler is transformed. The robotic functionary of the police state who sees Dreyman is an “object” rather than a person, is slowly humanised. His spying has in fact become an experience of epiphany. It has drawn him into a human encounter. He sees people, events and things differently now.
Pope Francis, when he was in Brazil in 2013, addressed a gathering of society leaders. He gave a message that has become emblematic of his papacy:
“When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. The only way for individuals, families and societies to grow, the only way for the life of peoples to progress, is via the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return. Others always have something to give me, if we know how to approach them in a spirit of openness and without prejudice. … Only in this way can understanding grow between cultures and religions, mutual esteem without needless preconceptions, in a climate that is respectful of the rights of everyone. Today, either we take the risk of dialogue, we risk the culture of encounter, or we all fall; this is the path that will bear fruit.”
A “culture of encounter” emerges from the epiphanies of daily living. Epiphanies emerge from a “culture of encounter”. Everyday contains multiple opportunities for both “encounter” and new ways of seeing oneself, others and the events and things of our world.
Epiphany is awakening, new seeing, expanded perspectives, deepened appreciation for the possibilities of each day.
The great source of life’s epiphanies is Jesus himself, the Word made flesh. He dwells amongst us, he seeks to encounter each of us in every moment of every day.