"Exploring the Wilderness"
-In The High Desert-
For most people, the holidays are now but a memory. Yet there is still one more "Christmas" story left to tell, and it's a story told not just for Christians and not just for believers, but for all human beings.
The Gospel of Matthew contains a story about "three wise men" who travel from a distant eastern country to seek out a new-born king. They are led by a star to the Bethlehem manger, and when they find the child Jesus, they offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Personally I have always thought that this may be "the" most misunderstood and misinterpreted scripture in all the New Testament. Like so many stories in the Bible, this is not simply an historical account of something that happened long ago.
If the story of the wise men (wise persons) is confined to an event that occurred 2000 years ago - travelers from the east bringing baby Jesus some nice birthday gifts, the story may be "cute," but it is essentially meaningless even for Christian believers. It's a nice story about famous people in long-ago times.
But this story is a rich metaphor, abounding in beautiful poetry - providing deep insight into the very core of what it means to be a human being.
Those three wise persons in the story are "magi," "philosopher-scientists," of their own day. They are astrologers, star-gazers and intellectuals. They have spent their life acquiring knowledge about how the world works. Their libraries are filled with books and their minds are filled to the brim with ideas.
However, their quest for knowledge is somehow lacking - something is missing. They are full of knowledge but they lack deeper wisdom. And so they go off on a journey of discovery - a quest for a deeper understanding of the "meaning" of life.
In order to make this journey they must travel lightly. They must leave behind all that has been familiar to them in the past - their well-worn ideas, their libraries of books, their comfortable assurances, their homes, their status.
As they travel out into the wilderness, they have no clear direction, no maps or highways. They aren't even sure of their destination. All they have to guide them is a bright star shining in the night sky, leading them on their way.
With a bold sense of adventure and even abandon, these wisdom-seekers follow the star until it finally comes to rest over a stable in Bethlehem where they find a new born child, an embodiment of wisdom. They bask in the child's presence, adoring and offering gifts.
Wow, what a great story! Now this is poetry!
Every single one of us- every human being in all places and in all times are those three wise persons. We are all seekers after wisdom.
In his book, the "Experience of God," David Bentley Hart offers my very favorite definition of "wisdom."
Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience;
it is the ability to see again what most of us have forgotten how to see.
I believe that we are all born with an innate sense of the "Holy." Every human being is born with a "spark of God" in them - something of that universal energy of love glows in each of us, giving us life and connecting us to one another and to the whole cosmos.
This is what it means to say that we are all born with a "soul."
As we grow up that "sense of the transcendent" often gets clouded and covered over by our clever ideas and by our selfish feeding of a bloated ego. We eventually come to think that the world exists for our own gratification. The smarter we get, the more knowledge we acquire, the more we believe that we can figure it all out.
But deep down inside, we are those "wise persons." We all know that our ideas, our comforts and our comfortable solutions are just not enough-somethng is still missing. And if we are bold enough, we embark on a soul-searching journey, a quest for wisdom, a journey to recover our original innocence.
In our journey toward wisdom, we must lay aside all our well-worn comfortable ideas and solutions, even laying aside our ideas and solutions about God- who God is or who God isn't. There are no clear paths on this wisdom journey. All we can do is sit quietly in the moment and wait in the silence.
But if we are courageous enough to embark on this soul-searching journey, sitting, waiting, awake and open to the revelation of every moment, the star appears -the universe finds us, and that which we once had known is recovered. The spark of God blazes in our souls and we bask in adoration as we realize that we are connected to the cosmos.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said:
Not all those who wander are lost
Today, as we tell that last "Christmas" story, I recommit myself to that soul-searching wisdom journey.
I may be wandering but I am not lost.
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