Friday, January 5, 2018

Guided by a Star

"A Glimmer in the Night"

Most people who celebrate Christmas have already taken down their tree and packed away the decorations; however, the Christmas season is not quite over yet and there is still one more important story yet to be told: the story of the “Three Kings.”  According to the tale, three “wise men” from the East make their way to the Bethlehem manger where they present the newborn baby with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The beautiful poetry of this story is an icon of the “spiritual journey” and can be applied to anyone on any sort of a spiritual quest regardless of what path one may be on.

Like so many biblical narratives, this story of the “three wise men” loses its power if it is taken too literally, viewed as an historical account of an event that happened long ago to those people back then. When we are able to read this scripture as “poetry” and see it as “metaphor,” the tale suddenly becomes “our” story.

The “wise men” in this account are perhaps better understood as “magi,” a term that refers to philosopher-scientists in ancient times. According to the biblical account, these three “magi” had acquired a great deal of knowledge about how the world works and they were deeply respected for their intellect. Then, one day, while gazing up into the heavens in order to chart the course and constellations of the stars, they noticed that a new star had suddenly appeared in the nighttime skies. The new star was bigger and brighter than any they had ever seen before and it seemed to be pointing toward a “way.”  

The magi were unable to explain this appearance but the star filed them with a profound sense of wonder. It was as if that star was tugging at their spirits, urging them to follow where it might lead, inspiring them to seek greater truth and a deeper wisdom that went beyond what they already knew.

So the magi decided to leave behind their comfortable lives, their highly respected “occupations” and their tried and true ideas. They packed their bags, threw caution to the wind and followed an uncharted path pointed out to them by a mysterious star in the night skies.  They had no idea where this star might lead them but they trusted that they would not be lead astray and their trust was not misplaced because the wondrous star guided them to the place where Jesus, the light of truth, lay glowing in a manger.

The poetry of this story is truly stunning.

The tale of the “magi” is the story of every human heart. At some deep level, each and every one of us feels that pull of the glimmering star as it draws us out of our tiny, little self-contained worlds and calls us to the transcendent experience of that which is greater. Each and every one of us is on some sort of spiritual journey to find the “meaning of life.” In  some sense we all have a desire for “God.”

The tale of the “magi” also teaches us that the journey to enlightenment is never simple and clear-cut. At best all we ever have is a glimmer of a wondrous star in the night skies, some underlying sense that there is something more to life than that which can be explained away by our glib explanations and well-established ideas and dogmas.  

The journey of enlightenment is always a bold and even risky adventure and we can never come to the light unless we are willing to walk through the night. In the words of the 16th century monk and mystic, John of the Cross:

On the spiritual path
if one wants to be sure of the road
you must close your eyes and walk in the dark

As the Christmas season comes to an end and a new year begins I once again commit myself to that journey of wisdom by following the guidance of a star of wonder.

Socrates once said:

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom

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