Sister Doreen’s Reflections
This Saturday is the Feast of the Epiphany, and as the nights get longer and the weather becomes colder, it is holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Epiphany that get us in the festive mood and try to keep us going through the long winter days that lie ahead of us. Epiphany is known as the “Little Christmas “ or the “Theophany” (a manifestation or grasp of reality through something, or some event, that is usually simple and striking), is celebrated at the end of, and marks, the 12 days of Christmas. In the Western world it is a Christian feast day commemorating the visit of the Magi.
When I began to ponder the Biblical story of the visit of the Magi, their pondering of scripture and the signs of the time, their journey and their determination, I was reminded of something that Joan Chittister said in her book The Monastery of the Heart when she talked about stability of heart or stability of purpose, in keeping our pursuit of God and care of our neighbour as the central focus. She pointed out that it is stability of heart, and not stability of place, that is the real spiritual gift. Wherever we have fixed our hearts, whatever it is to which we have given them, will determine the way we experience all that is happening to us now. It is this stability that will hold us fast during the deepest dark times and struggles and unknowns of our lives.
What have I fixed my heart on during these 12 days of Christmas? To what do I feel called to as my stability of purpose right now? Over the years have I noticed changes in the way that I live out that longing or stability of purpose in my spiritual life?
The Magi followed the star that they saw in the East with a very clear purpose – the desire to find the Christ child, the newborn infant who would become king of the Jews, and worship him. (Matthew 2) Through long months of gruelling travel they determinedly moved towards their goal. First, they came to Jerusalem and it seems that in this city in which everyone thought the glory of God would shine most brightly, their guiding light disappeared. Perhaps they were momentarily distracted by the glittering city and the welcoming rulers. Or maybe they momentarily lost sight of their true purpose.
However, in their hearts they knew that this was not their destination. As they left the city: The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay; and as soon as the wise men arrived, they saw Him with Mary and Joseph, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. (Matthew 2:10,11).
Sometimes God’s guiding star leads all of us into unexpected places, away from the bright lights of Jerusalem and on to the backwater, humble town of Bethlehem. I thought about my own life, and how often it is that God’s presence comes in the most unexpected, often difficult times, in simple very human ways: a smile, a tear, a sigh of relief. How often I have looked for the more astonishing and exceptional places in my journey towards a deeper relationship with God, and myself, and others. How often I am distracted by the glittering city and the welcoming status quo around me. How often I have let go or loosened my grasp on the true purpose I have set for my life.
On Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus, a feast that was associated with a humble, poor Holy Family whose homelessness was sheltered in a stable or cave. There were only a few who came, in response to the angels’ message to adore the holy child and his parents. On Epiphany we see the Magi, from far away places, come to adore something they recognized as greater than just an infant child, and in that child whom they recognize with gifts, it is God they adore. With the Magi this feast of the Incarnation now appears to the whole world, not just to a chosen few, with a deeper understanding of God here amongst us, right now.
As we lean into the light of God and journey towards Bethlehem this Epiphany, it is important to remind ourselves of God’s purposes for our lives. I encourage you to take time to reaffirm and reimagine what that means for you at this point in your life. In a real sense the Feast of the Epiphany ushers in the new year with a wonderful celebration of this ever present, tenacious and unconditional loving God.
This is a quote from Joan Chittister’s book The Monastery of the Heart:
Wherever we have fixed our hearts
whatever it is to which we have given them,
will determine the way we experience
all that is happening to us now.
Indeed, it is stability of heart, not stability of place,
that is the real monastic gift.
Stability of heart –
commitment to the life of the soul,
faithfulness to the community,
perseverance in the search for God –
is the mooring that holds us fast
when the night of the soul is at its deepest dark,
and the noontime sun sears the spirit. (160, 161)
The Feast of the Epiphany is an opportunity to sit quietly in prayer and allow God to speak to your heart. It is a time to remind yourself of the ways your sense of call has provided stability of heart and purpose for you in the past. Are there new things that God is wanting to give birth to as we approach this season of new life in this new year? Has the light of God’s shining star dimmed for you? Have you allowed yourself to be distracted by the bright city lights? Are there ways in which God is asking you to once more follow the star?