by Joanie Butman
As some of you may know, today is the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the Wise Men finding Jesus after following a star through the desert. In our family, we call it Little Christmas. We always leave the tree up and the lights on until January 6th which marks the end of the Christmas season but also another new beginning.
Webster defines epiphany as “a sudden realization or the appearance of God.” We’ve all had them; epiphanies, that is, not necessarily witnessing the appearance of God. Eureka* moments when an elusive concept or idea suddenly becomes clear to us. It’s probably safe to say that none of us has had the opportunity to experience being in the presence of the Divine – at least not in the way the Wise Men did. However, I think we all have moments in life that change us forever. Perhaps it’s an event or a person that challenges all that we believe to be true, causing us to view life in a whole new way.
We can all relate to these three relatively unknown individuals – not because we share their wisdom or wealth, but because we share their journey. Aren’t we all at different stages of our own odyssey – searching for meaning and purpose in a world that seems to be spiraling out of control. We’re all traveling towards something (though racing seems to be the norm today). Regardless, the guiding light we choose will be different for everyone. For some, like the magi of old, it will be the light of Christmas, which is manifested in the person of Christ. But for others it might be a belief, a dream, an ambition, or maybe even a person that guides their life’s path. The road you travel will be unique to you. Here’s something to consider. Maybe just choosing to start the journey will allow that which you pursue to find you.
Tony Jarvis, author of With Love and Prayers and a wise man in his own right, gives the most accurate description of what motivates someone like the Wise Men to undertake a journey that many must have considered foolish. It is, I believe, a universal truth that is worthy of consideration on today of all days. He claims, “The search for truth, the search for the meaning of life, begins with the experience of emptiness.”
Some think they (the Wise Men) were sultans or sheiks of minor Middle Eastern states. Why, then, did they leave their comfortable lives behind, the security of their own families, the warmth of their own homes, the convenience of their own community? They had everything anybody could want without leaving home. And, yet, apparently they didn’t. Apparently, something was missing. Apparently, amid all their affluence, all their comfort, all their status, there was something lacking. There was at the heart of all their glittering well-being a gnawing emptiness. And so they left it all behind – at least for a while, driven by this emptiness to look for something that would fulfill them. They longed for something beyond what they had. **
It is so true. I’ve experienced that gnawing emptiness, an uncomfortable feeling of discontent complicated by self-disgust that someone who has been blessed with so much could dare to feel unsatisfied. Yet, I wasn’t yearning for more stuff, but more substance. And so I chose to begin a life-changing journey full of detours, rough terrain, and more questions than answers. The funny thing is...the farther down the path I got, the more comfortable I became with the unknown. The big difference between my journey and that of the magi is that they knew what they were looking for. It took me years to figure out what or who would quench my thirst for meaning and substance, but it was well worth the trip.
It took the Wise Men significantly less time than me, but it was still a lengthy trip to find Christ. It wasn’t an easy journey. I don’t think it is for anyone. I can’t say for sure, but traveling hundreds of miles on a camel can’t be pleasant. There must have been varying weather conditions making it difficult to see the star. They must have lost sight of it from time to time as we all do – but they kept going, confident in their mission but not necessarily of their final destination or else they wouldn’t have had to stop and ask Herod for directions. Despite the obstacles, they dared to believe that which others doubted. On any kind of journey of discovery there are times when it seems futile, when the fog of self-doubt clouds our judgment and nags at our consciousness, questioning the wisdom of the journey. It could even be those around you, not liking your new direction, who try to convince you to turn back and settle for the status quo. Whatever the case may be, we’re all tempted at some point along the way to settle for living with that emptiness rather than choosing to risk leaving the comfort of our old ways of thinking.
That is the crossroad of life – a transition point of some sort – where our choice will define the rest of our lives. It could be an illness, a financial crisis, a tragedy, even a success – something that presents a personal challenge. It doesn’t have to be drastic. It might simply require a change of attitude, a change of priorities, or a change of beliefs, but that will not make it any easier. A wise priest once counseled me, “It is much more difficult to change the way we live than it is to change where we live. The hardest part is giving up old thought patterns and ways of acting and reacting.” That is the beauty and miracle of an epiphany. It changes us forever whether we want it to or not. Our life circumstances may or may not change, but our lives will be fuller and richer from the experience – the gnawing emptiness supplanted with a contentment that defies circumstance.
Jarvis concludes his chapter about the Journey of the Magi with an interesting sentiment about their choice to return home a ‘different’ way:
That may mean nothing more than the literal fact that they went home by a different route to avoid Herod in Jerusalem. But it also may mean that for the rest of their lives there was a difference; that somehow, their lives had been changed forever by their contact with the baby; that the rest of their lives would be lived ‘another way.’
My New Year wish for you is that you choose to begin this year ripe for adventure and open to epiphanies of all kinds. And don’t rule out the appearance of God-ones. I see Him working in the lives of others everyday and so can you when you choose to be open to it. It’s all a matter of what you choose to focus on. Even in a tragedy as heinous as the Newtown massacre, one of their local parish priests commented, “ ...no media coverage has even touched the deep, beautiful awakening of faith that has occurred here. Our church has been full of people in prayer without ceasing since this tragedy happened. Love is stronger than death."
Sometimes the light you’re following will be obvious, other times we may have to choose to travel by faith as the Wise Men did. I don’t think Jerry Garcia will go down in the annals of wise men, but he certainly had a large following and moments of clarity. This was one of them…
Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.
*Eureka is Greek for "I found it."
**With Love and Prayers, Pg. 147-149