Friday, January 1, 2010

01-03-2010: The Epiphany (C)

The Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6/ Psalm 72/ Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6/ Matthew 2:1-12
The Magi (the Three Wise Men or Three Kings), renowned for their famous trek in pursuit of a star, remained nameless until the Venerable Bede would inform the world some seven hundred years later of their given names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Although noted for the distance they traveled in following that star at its rising, they would travel much farther in death than they ever did in life. The Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helen, is said to have taken their bones from Persia to Constantinople in the fourth century. Their remains would later be carried on to Milan; and, when Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor, invaded the Italian peninsula from the north, he would retrieve the Magis’ bones and reinter them in Cologne, Germany.

Such wanderlust, in life and death, is appropriate for these enigmatic pilgrims whom legend tells us had likely originated in ancient Persia – modern day Iran. Linguistics scholars have long understood the ancient connection among peoples who speak Indo-European or Aryan languages: Persian Farsi is related to Italian and German just as the words Iran and Ireland may share a common heritage. In these global connections, the Magi remind us of the universality of our shared humanity, especially when it comes to travel. Humanity’s origins, evolutionary biologists tell us, can be traced back to Africa from where two major migrations of our distant ancestors populated all parts of the world over the course of millennia. It seems, as human beings, we have an innate need to travel, to escape, to migrate, to search. Some of us have a clear notion of where we want to head; some need to escape disaster or certain death; others just need to get up and go with the hope of discovering a destiny en route, so to speak, to who-knows-where. Psychologists tell us that travel is often the catalyst for personal insight and self-discovery, providing unexpected breakthroughs for those of us stuck in some emotional muck or mire (Bette Davis imaged such an experience when, after an emotional breakdown, took that cruise in Now Voyager and discovered new life with Paul Henreid). It seems that changing our routine, replacing the venue, feeling displaced, can spark a fresh look at one’s life, helping us meet challenges by providing a different perspective. It did for me.

Although I had often thought about searching for my birth family since I discovered I was adopted, it wasn’t until I first traveled to Korea to study language and culture back in 1984 that I made a firm decision to search. I attribute that decision to the experience of culture shock and the displacement I first felt when I found myself far from the familiar. And mine is not an uncommon story. A good friend of mine, adopted as well, decided to search for her birth family after she joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Nigeria. When her dog gave birth to a litter of puppies in her lap, my friend realized she must have come from someone’s body as well and, on her return to America, began the search for the mother that gave her birth.

But you don’t have to be searching for a lost family to have had this experience. You just need to recognize that you’ve lost something. And, as one character from the 1996 film Secrets & Lies poignantly noted regarding his wife’s infertility: You really can miss what you’ve never had. It’s that mysterious longing for the ineffable, that something you can’t quite put your finger on, that is at the heart of wanderlust, migration, the sacred-searching religion calls pilgrimage. You can’t know the end result when you begin your journey; only pray you will recognize your destiny when it makes itself known. The Magi didn’t know what they would find when they followed the star, they just knew they had to get up and go, being caught up in the awe of it all; and the promise that, despite the experience of danger and fear, they would discover something wonderful at the end of their sacred journey.

For most of us the physical experience of actually moving, of feeling displaced, is a prerequisite for recognition of the sacred nature of our particular migration. But even if that were not possible, St. Teresa of Avila reminded us long ago that the greatest pilgrimage any of us can ever make – is the one within.

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