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Posted by on Feb 21, 2015

Light

Light

800px-Sunrise on Mt Sinai in Egypt - June2006 - by Mabdalla - public domainLight is fascinating. At Christmas time we are enthralled with the lights all around us, candles and Yule fires. We feel safe in light. Light is beautiful to us. At Epiphany and the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) we hear that a light for the nations has come into the world and that people from afar have come to witness its arrival. Light is a physical, energetic reality so fundamental that it takes on symbolic meanings as well.

An energetic force

Light is so basic and essential that we take it for granted. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. So amazingly fast. It is an electromagnetic radiation, a specific energy, that has a spectrum of forms from short waves (ultraviolet) to long waves (infrared). In the middle are the manifestations of light we can see, such as colors. Its most notable characteristic for humans is that light stimulates the organs that help us see: the retina, the optic nerve, etc. We are richly blessed to see ourselves, people, and objects. Light is so important to humans that we can become very ill if we lack it for a long time.

A symbolic image

But, light is much more. It is also spoken of as mental illumination or insight. The word itself can mean to understand. It can also be used to describe being guided, as John of the Cross describes his own journey in spiritual darkness during which he is guided by nothing “save only the light burning in my heart.” (Dark Night of the Soul).

Light has been experienced as God presence, enlightenment and strength (Psalm 27:1). God is described in the Scriptures as our light, a light that shines in our darkness (John 1:5), a light who calls us out of darkness
(1 Peter 2:9). Jesus himself tells us in turn to be the light of the world and not to hide our light (Matt 5:14).

God is our light. Our lives can be in darkness, darkness from letting ourselves be in agitation from bad habits or denial. We can give in to negative thoughts or fear. On the other hand, if we practice openness to seeing and hearing God speaking in our hearts, we can see and hear a desire in us to be illuminated and strengthened. We can feel the fog lifting and an ability to live in light. It is our choice to say yes to this. We don’t have to earn it or produce it, we just have to consent to it.

Image by Mabdalla, Sunrise at Mt Sinai in Egypt, public domain

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Posted by on Jan 17, 2015

Light

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

 

Hubble's View of NGC 5584Vatican astronomers, Br. Guy Consolmagno and Fr. Paul Mueller have penned this provocative question as the title of their new book. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? deals with the most common questions they receive. Generally the questions assume a conflict between science and faith. Their first task is to reduce the assumption of conflict and to look at the information in an analytical and thoughtful way.

For example, they take on the star of Bethlehem and rule out many of the scientific explanations. It was most likely not a supernova as Kepler had proposed. It may have been a conjunction of planets as proposed by Molnar in his 1999 book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. However, limiting the question to how it occurred and which laws of nature were violated can miss the point. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles don’t always mean a suspension of the laws of nature. The point of the star of Bethlehem is that God gave a great sign. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles, whether they accord with the laws of science or not, are some great sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Br. Consolmagno defines science as an ongoing conversation about facts. It is not a book of rules. Likewise religion is conversation we have within our church, among ourselves, and with God. He concludes, “One of the joys of science and philosophy is learning how to live and enjoy a mystery.”

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Posted by on Jan 16, 2015

The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent

The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent

 


Fr. Geoffrey Plant of Sydney, Australia has prepared a multimedia homily for the feast of the Epiphany. In his homily, Fr. Plant presents the main points of the feast.

The term “epiphany” comes from the Greek meaning to “shine forth”. We tend to assume that there were three kings because there were three gifts named: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Fr. Plant notes that they were not called kings but “magi” in Greek, with stands for wise men or sages.

The gifts are symbolic of the nature and meaning of Jesus. Gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is a sign of the divine, and myrrh is for burial, indicating that Jesus will triumph through suffering and death.

Fr. Plant suggests the wise men also brought the gift of Holy Discontent. Examples of holy discontent may be seen in the character of Popeye. An example of unholy indifference is seen in the the character of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Fr. Plant sees the magi as showing a holy discontent: a willingness to search, to be changed, and not to feel comfortable again. He compares them to Herod’s wise men who despite being so close to Bethlehem fail to see the signs in the heavens though others have seen them from afar.  Quoting W. H. Auden, Fr. Plant compares the hardness of heart of Herod’s wise men to our own post-modern era:

We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die

W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

This gift of Holy Discontent — the gift of prophecy and activism — is what the wise men bring to the Christ child and to us according to Fr. Plant. It is the divine call to the kingdom through suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015

Light

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

 

Presents-under-the-Christmas-treeby Petr KratochvilGifting, the giving and receiving of gifts during the Christmas season, serves to remind us of God’s great gift in coming to live with us personally. In Jesus, the Word of God, became a human, like us in all things but sin. God chose to enter into the vulnerable, imperfect, uncertain, but wonderful reality of life as a fully human being, starting as a baby with normal human parents, family, and friends in a small village. Through the gift of incarnation and redemption, God healed the division between the divine and the human, giving humans the chance to be re-united with their source.

Christians have celebrated this great gift from the very beginning through their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Sharing of gifts of time, talent, and money has also been a hallmark of the Christian life, not just within the community but also reaching outside to the most vulnerable members of society. The world has never been the same since God entered personally into our human experience, because now God lives as Holy Spirit within each of us and reaches out to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Diverse gifting traditions

Traditions for giving and receiving gifts vary around the world. In some areas St. Nicholas brings gifts on his feast day, December 6. In others Santa Claus or the Christ Child bring gifts at Christmas. In still others, the gifts arrive at the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany in early January, when the coming of Jesus was shown forth to the Gentile world as well as to the original children of Israel.

The gifts arrive in different ways as well. Some are placed in shoes, others in stockings. Some are placed under a tree, others arrive carried by family or friends. Some are wrapped, others shine in all their glory to delight children who wake early to find them. Some even come via the postal service and other freight delivery trucks! However they arrive and however they are packaged, they carry love in their wake.

As we have moved through Advent and into the Christmas Season this year, I have also been noticing the ways that traditional holiday foods arrive in or as packages. Many candies and baked goods arrive in lovely containers. The tamales we enjoy at Christmas and New Year’s Day have meat or vegetables seasoned with chili hidden inside the corn dough. Chinese dumplings eaten to celebrate the New Year have a mixture of meat and/or vegetables hidden inside the noodle dough that we see. King cakes have a figurine or other surprise hidden inside. Steamed puddings have nuts and raisins inside. Each of these traditional forms of gifts and food (and others from around the world) is a way that we as humans express the wonder of God’s gift of himself to us through the birth of Jesus.

May the joy of Christmas and the wonder of Epiphany be yours now and into the year we have begun.

 Image by Petr Kratochvil – public domain

 

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Posted by on Jan 9, 2013

Light

Epiphany — The Coming of a Shepherd for All God’s People

 

The Adoration of the Magic by Murillo

The Adoration of the Magic by Murillo

The readings for the Feast of the Epiphany and the week that follows ring out with joy at the coming of the Lord, not just to the Jewish people, but to all the world. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” (Is 60:1) “… the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6) “… behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:1-2) “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.” (Ps 72:11)

Yet amidst all of this joy and talk of kings and splendor, the reality of God’s kingdom quietly peeks out. Where has the child been born? Not in Jerusalem, the center of political and religious power. Those in Jerusalem — kings and priests alike — have not heard of the birth of a child to inherit the throne. The priests and teachers remember the prophecy of his birth: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” (Mt 2:6) Bethlehem, city of David, home of another child who grew up to replace an earthly king to whom he was not related, is once again to produce such a king! The news was not a source of joy to the rulers of the age; an attempt to thwart the prophecy was duly launched, leading to the massacre of all of the boys aged two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. (Mt 2:16) The birth of a child to be the new king brings terrible suffering to many innocent children and their families.

The king of the prophecy will be different: he will be a shepherd for God’s people, Israel. A shepherd takes a different approach to governing and to leadership. The shepherd will govern with justice, protecting the afflicted ones and bringing peace “til the moon be no more” to the land. (Ps 72:7) The kings of the nations will pay homage to this king and all nations will serve him because this king rescues the poor who cry out for help. He takes pity on everyday people and the poor, rescuing them from all who would oppress or take advantage of them. Such a king would indeed be welcomed and his glory would truly shine forth. This king, blessed by God, will bring glory to Jerusalem — the center of the Lord’s presence among His people.

This great feast of Epiphany, the shining forth of the Lord’s splendor from Israel into the world at large, reminds us of our call as the People of God: a call to care for each other so that the splendor of love in all its practical applications will be a witness everywhere to the presence of the Shepherd, leading us in bringing justice and peace to our world.

 

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Posted by on Jan 6, 2010

Light

The Magi, the Epiphany, and the Stars of the New Age

There is often a lot of hand wringing and concern about the revival of pre-Christian earth based religions or neo-paganism. Whether it is the five pointed star -the pentagram- demons and vampires, or dancing and drumming at the equinoxes and solstices, all the signs seem to herald something worse than the age of atheism – the return of polytheism. We have now gone full circle from the one God back to many gods and goddesses.

New Age spiritualism allows people to celebrate the reality that is deeper than the merely physical without any of the doctrine or historical messiness of Christianity or any “organized” religion. It allows people to access the transnatural directly or in small groups led by a shaman. There is no need for big buildings, big groups, or any separation from the sacredness of nature.

The Magi or Wisemen were actually following the stars that announced the birth of a new King of Israel. The arrival of the Magi is called the Shining Forth – the Epiphany – the appearance of God to all of the world beyond Bethlehem of Judea.

What was wondrous to good people willing to see the obvious signs was hidden from the evil King Herod.

Although the resurgence of paganism is characteristic of something called the New Age perhaps it represents a search for the Divine in Creation, for the feminine, a faith that the Gaia may rally to overcome the forces threatening to destroy the biosphere and save us from ourselves.

The Magi today are poets, scientists, and dreamers led by Grace to see and understand the portents of the night sky as they search for Day. Caught up in our temples, traditions, and tedium have we missed the Star calling us forth?

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Posted by on Jan 6, 2009

Light

Epiphany

Hieronymus Bosch - The Adoration of the Magi

Hieronymus Bosch - The Adoration of the Magi

The Feast of Epiphany is traditionally celebrated January 6 in the Western Church. Recently, we have begun to celebrate it as a community on the first Sunday of January after the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st).

Epiphany, from the Greek “to manifest” or “to show forth,” is a celebration of God’s presence bursting forth and becoming visible in human lives. For Western Christians, the focus has been on the visit of the Magi, the wise ones, who followed a star from the East to find the newborn king. In this story, we see God’s presence being revealed to non-Jews, to Gentiles. For Eastern Christians, the focus is on the Baptism of Jesus, when Jesus became identified as the Son of God. The feast is sometimes known as Theophany in the East. (In the Western Church, we too celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, but on the Sunday after we celebrate Epiphany.)

In many Christian countries, especially those bordering the Mediterranean and in former colonies of those countries, gifts are exchanged at the Feast of Epiphany. This is because the Magi brought gifts to the child Jesus – gold, incense (frankincense) and myrrh. The gifts named in Matthew’s gospel can be seen as symbolic of the roles Jesus would play in salvation history – as king, deity, and human victim/sacrifice – as a result of the incarnation. Songs such as “The First Nowell” and “We Three Kings” remind us of the story and tell it again to our children.

During this season of Epiphany, may our eyes be open to see God’s presence in the people around us – the children, the babies, the old ones, the ones on the street, the ones at our work or in our homes. God is forever peeking around corners, knocking on doors in our hearts, smiling out of flowers, singing through the voices of birds and trying in every way possible to shine forth into our lives. May we be gifted to see and to smile in return.

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