Saturday, January 7, 2023


     When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    An epiphany is a manifestation of something hidden, or a sudden realization of something significant. This feast of the Epiphany is all about human beings encountering God among us. The readings at Mass are about the visit of the magi, but properly speaking, "Epiphany" also includes the angel's announcement to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, and infant Jesus's presentation in the Temple, where he was recognized as the Messiah by Simeon and Anna. And more: it includes the adult Jesus's baptism in the Jordan River by John, when the dove descended on him, and also his transfiguration up on the mountain, in the presence of Peter, James, and John. 

    Stick with the magi, the wise men, for a moment.

Not kings, by the way, they would have been presumably Persian astrologers -- the association with kings comes from a parallel text in Isaiah. They come to pay homage to this newborn king, not even their own country's king but a foreigner. They find him, not in a palace, heaped high with silk swaddling clothes and solid gold baubles, but in a stable, cradled in straw in an animal's feed box. Not surrounded by courtiers and bodyguards, but by shepherds, guys who sleep rough out in the pasture with their flocks.

    The mess didn't put them off. They presented their rich gifts. They had dreams of angels warning them not to return to Herod, and they trusted the dream and went home by a different way. They trusted their books and star charts that told them that this unimpressive baby was born a king, and important enough to warrant their long journey and expensive gifts. When they looked, they saw something that is not apparent to the naked eye. And this is what Epiphany is all about: soul-seeing, seeing what is not visible, touching and letting oneself be touched by the ineffable. 

    Elijah went out to the desert, to a cave in the mountains. 

    Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13) 

    My question is this: what are you looking for, when you look for God? Or what are you missing, when you say there is no God? What are you expecting God to look and sound and be like? God is not a drama queen. God doesn't do parlor tricks. God doesn't grab me by the lapel and shake me, or jump up and down and yell to get my attention. God whispers, in a still, small, silent voice. If I'm not going to miss that voice, I have to get still, small, and silent myself. I have to simplify my life, de-clutter my mind and my space and my calendar of distractions, and I have to deliberately go looking for God in the silence of my cell. 

    This is the point of what I've been writing about for the past couple of months, or really, ever since I started this blog. To find God, to know God, to be moved and strengthened and enlivened by God, I have to go through a whole long process of correcting the distorted lenses through which I look for God. To know God, I have to get to know myself as I really am. I have to examine my conscience, and my life story, and some of that I have to do with some other wise person or people as a mirror. And let go of what is toxic, and make amends for past wrongs, and try again every day to be harmless.

    And I have to be still, and small, and silent. I have to be empty, clean of conscience, humble, willing, open. And I must take time, on purpose, away from all other distractions, and walk, or kneel, or write my meditations on a sacred text. I have to sometimes be present to other people's soul-searching, too, and be the mirror to help them find their true selves, and God in one another.

    If I can let go of all my expectations, all my busy thoughts and habits and tasks and plans, and just take the time to watch the sun rise and set most days, waiting for God to whisper to me, then I, too, can have an Epiphany of my own. God is subtle and shy ... but when you hear that whisper, your whole world is rocked, the air breaks into colors that don't exist in nature, your soul sings ... and if you can surrender to that, and let yourself be changed by it, then you will have peace and life more abundant, no matter what happens all around you. 

Happy new year, my friends


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