“Go, where you cannot go”
Next Sunday, January 6th, the Church throughout the world celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. For most of us, the Epiphany of the Lord is most recognized as the visitation of the Three Magi to the Baby in the manger—a visit rich in revelation. To many Irish, this day is called “Little Christmas.” For many Cubans, like myself, and other Latin Americans this day is called “El Día de los Reyes Magos” (Kings’ Day) or “Pascua de los Negros” (Blackmen Christmas). In most Spanish speaking cultures, this day, following the tradition of the Wise Men, Christmas presents are delivered and opened—a memory I recall from my childhood and a tradition I continue to celebrate with my children.
One of my favorite movies is “The Lion in Winter” (2003) with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. This wonderful film is a remake of the 1968 version starting Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. In one of the more memorable scenes from the movie, King Henry II returns to his palace following an evening walk where he takes particular notice of the multitude of stars in the dark sky. He says:
What eyes the wise men must have had to see a new one [star] in so many.
I wonder … were there fewer stars then?
I don’t know.
I fancy there’s a mystery in it.
What Henry stumbles across here is that wisdom involves a very different way of seeing—a non-seeing, if you will, a journey into the enigmatic dark mystery of the unknown: “I don’t know. I fancy there’s a mystery in it.” How, then, does the gospel of the Epiphany function in this light?
The question of the historical nature of the Epiphany account is a complicated issue, which biblical scholars and theologians debate to this day. Whether the Magi were actually following a bright star they could see in the sky with their eyes or not does not take away from our appreciation of the narrative when considered through the eyes of wisdom. It was through the lens of the wisdom in their hearts that the Magi were invited to see something a-new. Their hearts were stirred to follow something new, a journey that occurred at night and one that took them into the deep darkness of the night, into the unknown and unexpected. The following of “the star that they had seen” could not have taken place during the day. One can only be inspired by the beautiful faith of the Magi whose hearts of love were so moved from the ordinariness of their everyday life to follow something extraordinarily unknown to them and towards a place where they knew not where. The Magi surrendered themselves to the possibility of the impossible—the demand of faith. What eyes the wise men must have had to see a new one in so many.
The wisdom of the Magi invite us to give ourselves to, surrender ourselves to, and set ourselves out for the darkness, the unknown, the wholly other … for the impossible. Anything other than this surrender to the wholly other, to the impossible, is to remain imprisoned in the same place, with the same. To go where it is possible is not to surrender to the impossible—to the wholly other. Notice in the gospel that even after the Magi encountered the Christ Child and “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” they did not remain at-the-inn. After dropping off a few presents, they Magi left: “Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” I don’t know about you, but if I encountered the manifestation of God lying in a manger, I would have liked to stay. But staying is not the message of Epiphany, much less is it that of our Christian faith.
Go where you cannot go, see what you cannot see, Hear where there is no sound; then where God speaks you’ll be. Angelus Silesius
The manifestation of Epiphany is an invitation for you and for me to follow the blind wisdom of love in a journey into the unknown, into that which is completely and totally other. Epiphany does not end with us prostrating ourselves before the Christ Child to pay him homage but rather begins with our departure from the safety of the stable “by another way.” This “by another way,” which is the wisdom of the Magi, is the discourse of the God-Child on loving the other—the possibility of the impossible demand of faith: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Blessed are the poor, the outcast, the widowed, the little ones in the womb, the orphaned, the one “dressed in rags,” the immigrant, the refugee, the marginalized, the ones freeing modern day Herod’s, and the wholly other stranger that is to come. The scandal of Epiphany is the radical nature and demand of love to “go, where you cannot go.” At the beginning of this New Year 2013, may the mysticism of the Magi lead us to the bright darkness of the im/possible.
Oh, what eyes the wise men must have had to see a new one in so many.