“Adoration of the Magi” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1660. Wikipedia

Mary Marrocco: Magi mapped out route worth following

  • December 26, 2019

On a visit with my mother, who is bedridden now, diminished in sight and hearing as well as mental and physical mobility, we were not getting through to each other.  She couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t understand her.  Each of us wanted to break through into the other’s world, but were prevented by intractable walls we couldn’t see, like glass, hard and smooth. She cried aloud to God for help.

Then, in an instant, her face changed, as completely as the night sky when the morning sun appears. She knew me, knew herself, and knew much more. Hoping to reach her, I’d mentioned the name of her dear father. She caught it instantly and suddenly he was with us, as she immediately saw. Radiant, she touched my arm, introducing my Grandpa Louis and me to each other. “You’re part of me,” she cried elatedly, “and I’m part of you.  It’s so exciting!” An epiphany!

“Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your hearts shall throb and overflow” (Isaiah 60). So promised the prophet thousands of years ago, as we hear on the feast of Epiphany (Jan. 5).  An “epiphany” is a sudden and striking revelation. It can be as dramatic as lightning ripping into the Earth, as quiet as the dewdrop discovered on the leaf. As with my mother’s epiphany that day, it’s not a matter of learning a new fact, but of having the reality of something opened to mind and heart.

Life can be opaque. Sometimes God breaks through — or we break open. What happens then?

It’s not just learning to act differently; that would be superficial. Once we are changed, it’s impossible to act as we did before. It would be like a grown man crawling back into his mother’s womb, as Jesus told Nicodemus: even if he wants to, he can’t do it. The wise ones, the magi from the East, “returned home by a different route” (Mt 2:12): Did they have to stop and say to themselves, “now that we have had an epiphany we have to do things differently,” or were they different now, unable to take the old route? The warning dream that led them to change their path suggests the difference was not in their thinking, but at a deeper level.

An epiphany can change us and when we change, the world is different, too.  The magi’s epiphany made not only them, but the whole world, Godlier, more like God. Imagine: It is within our power to change the world in this way. “Nations shall walk by your light,” Isaiah continues, “and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you.” The change is real and it’s a real change in the world. You are the light of the world, commands Jesus.

The more we receive and live this truth, the more it becomes true in the world. Neuroscientists tell us trauma is passed down from generation to generation to generation. Yet when only one person finds healing, all are affected by this change. One person breaking the pattern of alcoholism changes the inter-generational wounding of addiction. Was the country of the magi changed when they returned to it changed?

We know people (and animals and all the Earth) catch illnesses from each other and so we protect ourselves from interactions.  Can we also catch healing from each other? Can the radiance of one illuminate all, as Isaiah urges? Did my mother’s radiance and the connection with my deceased grandfather stay within me, and can I find the way to carry it into the world?

“Find inner peace,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov (feast day Jan. 2), “and a thousand around you will be saved.”

What might this kind of change look like? Find out for yourself — in your family, your work, society. No need to make a program; it comes out of an epiphany encounter that changes you within. There’s no substitute. If we try to make a system that substitutes for the experience, it will become tyrannical.

It’s not an easy path, as the magi show: strangers who have lost their way in a strange land and have no one to trust but the light of their star. As with the shepherds and the swaddled baby, as with my mother, it’s an epiphany that happens in a place of vulnerability. It comes out of the cry of the heart and an openness to receive something unexpected. That’s not the same as a program, even a pastoral program. You have to go there yourself. Life will often lead you where you do not wish to go.

The magi saw the light, even in the nighttime of fear, confusion, oppression and violence. The starlight seen by the wise ones reveals that God-with-us seeks to meet each of us.

Why not follow the magi map? They were overjoyed … saw … entered … prostrated … opened their treasures … offered gifts … went home a different way.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca)