Monday, January 7, 2008

What the Body Knows -- Meditations for a Brief Epiphany

Happy New Year! We have come to the Season of Epiphany, the wise ones from the East coming to pay homage to the divine child. The sun, too, has turned and begins its journey from the south, lighting up the Eastern skies. This morning, however, was wet with mists rising from the rain soaked earth. With my car in the body shop, I drove to the ferry at 6:15 a.m. in an ancient vehicle with no heat or defrost. The cold and humidity were so intense and changing, that even with all the windows open and the wipers sweeping away the moisture constantly, the condensation on my windshield was so thick that I could not see my way. As I crept down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard toward Larkspur, I prayed to God. I prayed that the star of Bethlehem would guide me in my blindness, and now that I sit writing amid light and warmth, I reflect that this journey may not have been an accident.

St. Paul reminds me, “We see through a glass, darkly.” The mists of this dark morning put that dark glass right before my eyes. My truths glowed dim, like the few stars visible through the mist, like the streetlamps glowing in their fuzzy halos as I crept down the street of my life.

All this calls up images of saints, our enlightened ones, who are always painted with gold haloes. I call these signs of their sanctity, but they are also gentle reminders of my dimness. If you have ever looked at a face that is backlit, as a haloed face would be, you will also know that the light obscures their features and they cannot be seen clearly. Haloes turn faces dark and remind me that I do not know what the world looks like from within a saint. Like a plant rooted in earth, I instinctively seek the light, but I also recoil from it for it has the capacity to burn me. I feel kind of the same way about saints. I am drawn to them, but they scare me. I know I need to see; I know I need warmth to grow, but the reasons for my life elude me. I am attracted to the holy, because I think I might find those reasons there, but it scares me, too, because I cannot see far into its light.

As I child I was taught to understand mysteries by breaking them into manageable parts. Take the big thing apart and it will then be a manageable size. Its true nature will be revealed. But when true nature is wholeness, if I take something apart, I kill the very thing I seek to know. I fear sometimes that we in the church have tried to dissect God, and in so doing, wonder why it is hard to keep faith, why it is hard to invite others into it, to see, again in the words of St. Paul, "face to face."

Which brings me to the story of Herod and the Wise Ones, the story with which the Season of Epiphany begins. Like me in the car, Herod had a lot of horsepower under him, but his vision was clouded by ignorance and fear. He had won his power, not because he was of the House of David or because he had been anointed by a prophet, either of which would be legitimate criteria for kingship in his culture, but because he had struck a bargain with the Romans. And one day, people from the East showed up at his court, seeking a divine child, whom they assumed they would find in this palace, for in the East, it was common that gods should be born as princes. “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews,” they asked. “For we observed his star at his rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

Herod knew at once that it was not a son of Herod they were talking about. Lost in the fog of his mind, “Herod was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”

To be continued…

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