Late November, I always think I am really going to keep a hold of myself this season and simply continue my daily routine, working hard, looking neither to the right nor left, keeping my head down, prayer and Mass of course, okay maybe an open house or two, but let's not get crazy.
Then around Dec. 8th I realize all over again that I'm going to do basically nothing but visit with people, eat cookies, play carols on the piano, gaze lovingly at the lights up and down every street, talk to friends, old and new on the phone, and feel nonstop mingled joy and pain till December 26th. At least.
So I have surrendered to the season, more or less, and that's really what it's all about, isn't it? Entering into a kind of consecrated time and space that somehow both intersects and runs parallel to our daily lives, and yet is infinitely beyond our daily lives, or rather beyond our worldly finite lives.
I have many friends and family members who are in pain, who are lonely, who are struggling with loved ones who are sick or dying or in the grip of obsessions and compulsions, who are worried about their financial situation or their health or their kids.
So I'm thinking to run this piece on the Feast of the Epiphany that I wrote for Magnificat a couple of years ago.
"The Magi appear. The star hovers in the East. The star that points both heavenward to God, and earthward to a family. The Holy Family. Mother, father, child. The family, soon to be on the run, hunted by brutal murderers. The family, perpetually under siege. The family, our sanctuary and our exile. The family, fount of all that is good in us, and all that can become so terribly wounded.
Right from the beginning, Christianity is “a religion you could not have guessed,” as C.S. Lewis observed. “It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.” The Savior of the universe born with a bounty on his head. The Lamb of God, fresh from the womb, already up against Satan’s powers and principalities. Christianity is never sentimental, even toward babies. Joseph and Mary already had in their midst the Cross. Christ already had in his eyes the reflection of
Christianity has at its center joy, but joy is born of brokenness, limitation, tension, paradox. The shepherds, who have never left their pasture; the wise men, who have traveled from afar. A God of drama, of theater, of sensuality, of extremes: light and dark, poverty and wealth, anguish and hope. In the humblest of dwellings, three Maji materialize bearing gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh; the sweet fragrance of incense. What must Mary and Joseph have thought? What could such an event have signified?
A religion born of dreams: the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary, the dream of the wise men in which they are warned to return home by another route, the dream of Joseph, as soon as they depart. The dream of every human heart: to love and be loved; to not die alone. "The star was seen by everyone but not everyone understood its meaning,” notes Cromatius of Aquileia in his Commentary on Matthew's Gospel.
The Epiphany. The star that sheds just enough light so that we can take one more step, and then we must look to the star again. So like our lives that we, too, live in exile and fear, but also in hope. So emblematic of the strangeness of Christianity; its incongruities and contradictions. Never what we think it’s going to be, never what we think we want it to be. Always a fresh twist, a new pain, a new joy. Always a God whose ways are not our ways. Always, just when we think we’ve found a foothold, the order to flee to
The star shines in the east. How quiet the night must have been all around them. How deep the dark.