The morning of Jan. 7, I woke up feeling somewhat anxious, knowing I had to do a column before a tough work day at UP. I could see blinking Christmas lights outside my window and made a mental note to remind the housekeeping staff of Balay Tsanselor (the house assigned to chancellors by UP Diliman) to take them down. After all, Jan. 6, which most Filipinos know simply as Three Kings’ Day (can you hear the Christmas carol now?), is officially the end of the Christmas season. But in the Philippines, there’s always a reluctance to do that, making our already long Christmas season even longer.
I have wondered, for the longest time ever, why Jan. 6 was also called the Feast of the Epiphany. I had come to understand an epiphany as an “aha” moment, exemplified by the Greek scientist and polymath Archimedes solving a problem while in the bathtub and shrieking “Eureka, I found it!”
St. Paul’s conversion to Christianity as he fell from his horse on the way to Damascus was another epiphany, as dramatic as that of a close friend of mine in college who rather absentmindedly walked toward a glass door one day and, on impact, realized he had been stuck in an abusive relationship for years. Much to the delight of friends, that epiphany made him decide then and there to get out of the relationship.
Zen practitioners talk about kensho, an experience that happens during deep meditation that cannot be practiced or predicted. In English books, it is described sometimes as an epiphany. In Japanese, kensho uses the Chinese characters jian xing, which means seeing your true nature. In deeper discussions, it is a realization of self and, as Zen enigmas go, it is a realization that self is no-self.
My latest encounter with the word “epiphany” was in the preface to a great new book, “Siya nga!”, subtitled “Reflections with Art.” It is a collection of excerpts from the homilies of Ateneo de Manila University president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin (and, a wonderful riddle for Zen, published by the De La Salle University Press). There have been two previous anthologies of Fr. Jett’s homilies, but this is the best, with beautiful artwork and photographs accompanying his insightful homilies, which can spoil you because you then learn the difference between a homily and the ordeals called sermons, the latter still the predominant mode in our churches.
But I digress.
The morning of Jan. 7, as I looked at the blinking lights, I had an epiphany of sorts when I suddenly recalled the preface of David Jonathan Bayot, who edited “Siya nga!” There, he explained “siya nga” as an “expression of wonder… of openness to possibilities… an expression of epiphany and eureka.” He also gave the literal meaning of the expression: “It’s him,” and “It’s God,” “It’s Christ.”
I was perplexed when I first read that paragraph, not making the connection to the Feast of the Epiphany, but went into the book without thinking more about “It’s him” until yesterday, when the blinking Christmas lights got me thinking about siya nga.
I went into the internet and indeed, Jan. 6 is called the epiphany because the story of the three kings was meant to dramatize the first realization that the infant Jesus was the Christ. Perhaps, as they presented the gifts and looked at the child, the three exclaimed, in whatever their languages were, “Siya nga!”
What a wonderful expression this is, whether as “siya nga” or “siyanga.” I have so many other thoughts about the phrase, but I want to zero in on one aspect: Have you ever thought, too, that “siya” is not just “he” or “she” (or, the now politically correct term for non-binary people, “they”) but also an expression of ebullient joy? When we say siyanga, it is an expression of wonder bundled with joy.
All the more so when it is a joy kindled by “siya,” a someone. The opposite of my friend’s realization of an abusive relationship, here we have a dawning of insight that someone is special, maybe even that we want to spend our life (or lives, if you believe in rebirth) with that person: siya na, siya nga. Oh my, I think I just did a column that’s better for Valentine’s, but in the spirit of the epiphany that is the Three Kings’: Happy Siya Nga. In the year ahead, may your “siya nga” question become a “siya nga” or “ikaw nga” declaration.
May we, too, as a nation, have other “siyanga” epiphanies.
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