Yesterday, we celebrated one of my favorite feast days of the liturgical year: the Epiphany. This feast is the culmination of the 12-day Christmas season. It brings it to a celebrative closure with the story of three Magi who courageously followed a shining star through the dark nights of a very long journey in a foreign land to discover the Christ child.
This evocative story is full of many colorful images that invite us into the mystery of God’s self-revelation in Jesus, the Christ child. Now, if you are a little like me, the story of these three wise men sparks your imagination and curiosity. And this is why:
First: Many people think that these men were kings—as you might think from the popular Christmas song, “We Three Kings of Orient are…” or from our practice of eating Kings Cake in New Orleans.
But, we have learned that these men were not kings—they were, in fact, people who were not very important on the religious or social level of society at that time. Some people actually thought that these men were idolaters because they believed in and they used astrological charts to study the stars. When we consider these men and what they did, we find that these men were, in fact, the early scientists of those times and not really highly thought of at all—they were much like the shepherds—a bit on the fringe of society.
Today, we see scientists much differently, don’t we? But, in Jesus’ day the wise men were very much like scientists today—asking questions, forming hypothesis such as “if this-then statements”, following their hunches and testing a very rudimentary method to guide their path to the Holy One. I think that always impressed me as a child that these men were willing to take such risks to find Jesus, in spite of what was a very dangerous mission.
A famous poet, James Joyce first framed the word “Epiphany” to talk about moments of enlightenment—or what some have called “Ah-Ha” moments. These are the kinds of moments we have when we have a flash of light or when we understand something for the first time. We say either mentally or even out loud “Ah-HA!” and this is a pretty exuberant moment. That “Ah-Ha” moment is also called an epiphany meaning revelation—or, a “Yes, we can see the light moment!” “We get it now.” In short, we had an epiphany!
Students, teachers and all learners experience epiphanies all the time. We are on the journey of learning, after all—just like those early scientists, the Magi. We don’t always get things that are happening, or explained to us, but we follow our hunches, stay on the journey… and, occasionally on the path, we have moments of enlightenment.
So, now, I pose a couple of questions for you to reflect on at this time in the school year:
“For what would you venture forth into the darkness? For what are you deeply searching? What do you hope to experience on the path of your lives? What is the star that you are following? What is guiding your path? For what would you be willing to leave the comfort of your homes and the familiar to find?”
To end these reflections, I would like to share a poem that a famous theologian Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr wrote on the divine mystery of the Epiphany. I offer it to you with my prayer that this part of your journey at school is filled with the unexpected and surprising discovery of God’s presence in your lives.
Creator of the Stars
God of Epiphanies
You are the Great Star
You have marked my path with light
You have filled my sky with stars
naming each star
until it shines into my heart
awakening me to deeper seeing
and brighter epiphanies.
O infinite Star Giver
I now ask for wisdom and courage
to follow these stars
for their names are many
and my heart is fearful.
They shine on me wherever I go:
The Star of Hope
The Star of Mercy and Compassion
The Star of Justice and Peace
The Star of Tenderness and Love
The Star of Suffering
The Star of Joy
And every time I feel the shine
I am called
to follow it
to sing it
to live it
all the way to the cross and beyond.
O Creator of the Stars
You have become within me
an unending Epiphany.
I pray that this New Year, 2015, is filled with many “Ah-ha moments”—moments of unexpected insights, inspiration and of recognizing God’s continued coming into our lives. God bless you!
Note: These comments were shared at a recent prayer service of Middle Schooll students and faculty of the Academ of the Sacred Heart