Friday, January 6, 2017

Following a Star

"A Glimmer of Light"
- desert skies -

Most people who celebrate Christmas have already tossed their trees to the trash; and yet, according to the Christian calendar today is the last day of the Christmas season as the story of the “three wise men” (a.k.a. three kings) is recounted.

I suppose many people know something about of this familiar tale: following the leading of a star, sages from the east travel a long distance over desert terrain to pay their homage to the newborn baby Jesus.  When they arrive at the Bethlehem manger they offer the newborn baby some exotic “birthday” gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

People may hear of the tale of these three wise men and perhaps imagine it as a “nice story” but it has little or nothing to do with their own personal lives (especially if you are not a Christians or not a believer).  But, the more I think of it, this story is far more than a pleasant tale recounting a long-ago event; rather, it is a story rich in metaphor and poetry, a story that “taps into” a deeper wisdom about the very nature of our shared human condition.

The three wise persons of this story are “magi,” intellectuals, respected philosopher-scientists of their own day who have spent their entire lives in pursuit of knowledge, and yet they feel drawn to “something more.” A star glimmers in the sky, tugging at the spirits of these knowledge-seekers, calling them to pursue deeper wisdom and greater truth beyond what they already know.  

So they take some big risks and decide to go out on a bold and adventurous journey. They leave behind all that is familiar to them and journey out into the desert wilderness. They have no maps or clear-cut direction to follow, they aren’t even sure of what it is that they are looking for. All they have is a glimmering star shining in the midnight skies, guiding them on their journey to enlightenment.

The story of the “magi” is the story of every human heart. All of us feel the pull of that glimmering star, drawing us out of our tiny, little, individual selves and calling us into the experience of transcendence. There is something in each of us that desires deeper truth and wisdom. We are all on a journey to find the “meaning of life.” In some sense we are all looking for “God.”  

The “magi” story also teaches us that the journey to enlightenment is never simple and clear-cut. At best all we ever have is a sense that there is “something more” to life than what we can explain away – the glimmer of a star in the nighttime skies. The journey of enlightenment means that we must travel out into an unexplored wilderness, leaving behind everything that is familiar, all our glib explanations and carefully crafted dogma. The journey of enlightenment is a bold adventure and we can never experience the light unless we are also willing to walk in the dark.

The renowned 16th century monk and mystic, Saint John of the Cross, says this of the spiritual journey of every human heart:

On the spiritual path,
If one wants to be sure of the road he treads on,
he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.

I actually think that this statement almost perfectly “captures” the essence of what the tale of the “three wise men” teaches.

On this last day of Christmas we acknowledge that, regardless of who we are or what we may believe, we are all “magi” and so we walk in the dark and we follow the star that glimmers in the night.


  1. Definitely enjoying your posts and perspective! Another good read!