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Slow Dawning Epiphanies

Good Morning. On Thursday llhan Omar was sworn in as a member of the US House of Representatives.

She is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, the first to wear a hijab and the first Somali American. She captured her remarkable story in a social media post the night before.

‘23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya,’ she wrote, ‘My father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today we returned to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali American in Congress.’

What a journey.

Born in Mogadishu, losing her mother at 2, fleeing civil war at ten, a refugee in Kenya until resettled to the US – and, at 17, a US citizen.

Now, twenty years on, she is elected to the government of the most powerful country in the world.

That evening I was sharing a meal at the home of – let’s call them Hassan and Maria – who, four years ago, made their own journey from war. Their route from Aleppo in Syria to London went via a long period in refugee camps in Turkey.

As we ate they talked about the Syrian restaurant they dream of opening while their three kids bounced around their tiny flat – flitting – fluently –  between English and Arabic.

Last year I started attending Friday Prayers at the Mosque with Hassan-  he, coaching me in the cultural and religious nuances of Islam that I, – as a Christian, schooled in church – had no idea of.

I often don’t get the sermons – so that’s quite similar to church – but I’ve come to love the idea of taking your shoes off to enter a holy space.

And of kneeling to kiss the ground to say your prayers – and hearing all these other whispered longings from hundreds of people all around.

Everyone looking for a sign, some kind of divine hunch or holy sat nav to set them on the right path.

This weekend the western Christian calendar marks Epiphany, when we recall those exotic travellers – Magi – from the east, ‘through field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.’

Carrying their legendary gifts – gold, frankincense and myrhh – they must have been disappointed to end their long road trip in a little backwoods town called Bethlehem.

No red carpet or special treatment to greet their diplomatic mission. Just an ordinary family, still trying to work out what their life was becoming.

Epiphany means ‘appearance’ and the epiphany of these Magi was not the one they had anticipated.

But most of our epiphanies are a slow dawning – rarely the lightbulb moment.

The truth arriving quietly in the life of unexpected people from unlikely places.

Who could have predicted the journey from Somalia to the US Congress of Ilhan Omar ?

As I looked at Hassan and Maria’s three children, I wondered which one of them might become our Prime Minister … when I… am a much older man.

((BBC R4 Thought For The Day Jan 5 2019)