This week: The Fourth Wise ManEdited by: Sophy
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Hi, I'm Sophy ~ your editor for this edition of the Spiritual Newsletter.
The Rev. Scotty McLennan, author of the book Finding Your Religion, compares humanity's innate need for spiritual searching to climbing a mountain. In his view, we are all endeavoring to climb the same figurative mountain in our search for the divine, we just may take different ways to get there. In other words, there is one "God," but many paths. I honor whatever path or paths you have chosen to climb that mountain in your quest for the Sacred.
The Fourth Wise Man
In the Christian tradition, this is the season of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the wise man to the baby Jesus soon after his birth.The word epiphany comes from the Greek root “phaino,” which means to manifest or to shine. The prefix “epi” modifies a root word by intensifying its meaning. Thus, the original meaning translated into English is something like “an intensely lustrous appearance,” or “a sudden manifestation of something important emerging from darkness or hiding.” In more modern usage the word has also come to meanthe sudden comprehension of a previously unknown essence or meaning; an inspired understanding or profound insight; an enlightenment; an illuminating discoveryof truth often resulting in elation, awe, or wonder. I like to think of it as an internal light suddenly switching on, illuminating our ignorance or naiveté. It makes sense, then, that the symbol of the season is a star, a bright light shining in a dark sky.
While I appreciate the original Epiphany story of the visiting magi found in Matthew's Gospel, I recently came upon another take on the familiar story - written by Henry Van Dyke in 1895 called The Other Wise Man. It features a fourth Magi named Artaban. You've likely never heard of him because he doesn’t make it to Bethlehem with the other three. Rather, Artaban listens to his own inner voice and ends up following another star, of sorts. His original intention had been to journey with his companions to find the Christ child and gift him with a sack of precious stones to complement the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of his companions. But this plan ends up getting waylaid due Artaban’s frequent acts of kindness and compassion when he finds someone in need on his journey to find the baby Jesus. As the story unfolds, he uses one of the jewels to help a beaten man recover his health; he relinquishes another to spare innocent children from being slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers. When he finally arrives in Jerusalem, it’s 33 years later and the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. There Artaban offers his one remaining jewel to buy the freedom of a slave girl. When at last, as he "meets" Jesus, Artaban confesses he no longer has a gift for him. But instead of reprimanding Artaban, of course Jesus thanks him for the many priceless gifts he created along the way by intervening for the well-being of others, explaining that whenever he’d cared for those who were vulnerable and needy, he’d shown that kindness to Jesus himself.
The Other Wise Man is a sort of "madrash." In the Jewish tradition, "midrash," which means "to explain, deduce, ferret out," was a method employed by rabbis to seek out the deepest meaning from scripture. As rabbis poured over the ancient texts, they were encouraged to "read into them" and expand them beyond what was written. These then became texts themselves, as volumes were produced by rabbis throughout the centuries. For Jews, midrash was and is seen as a method by which one might deduce the intent or intentions of the Scriptural message. Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that go beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.
Miriam Therese Winter, Catholic religious worker and professor of liturgy, worship, spirituality, and feminist studies at Hartford Seminary says about Midrash: "In Judaism they have a methodology for honoring imagination called Midrash: taking the word or text and pushing it as far as it can go and imagining all kinds of things. They aren't saying this is what happened ~ but in the process of pushing the text something does happen. All of a sudden there is a meaning there that was never seen before because we went outside the lines, we turned it upside-down, we turned it inside out, we did everything in a different way ... If we free our imagination, God has a little more leeway and maybe the Spirit can get a word in edgewise. Maybe give us an insight which brings the good news that's been trying to be said for so long. What would it mean for us to live 'as if?' What if we tried to make a reality of the radically liberating message found in the writings of the Hebrew prophets and the gospels, instead of dismissing them as irrelevant, or worse taking them literally? What if we let our sacred imaginations come alive? What if we believed God is untamable by our words or worship, uncontrolled by our fear or prejudices? Where would we find ourselves?"
Your assignment, should you choose to accept, is to take a familiar passage of scripture from your religious tradition and "midrash" it. Tell what happened before, or after, or to a side character in the story. Scripture is a living, breathing entity that needs our continued care and attention for it to continue to be relevant, so using the passage of your choice as inspiration, let the spirit invite you to consider other aspects of the story which may speak to your soul. Tell the story from a perspective that needs to be shared. And then please share your items with me to feature in next month's newsletter.
Below you'll find some spiritual offerings from other WDC members. Please let the folks know if you read their piece by leaving a thoughtful comment or review. I realize I post mostly poems, but that is because it is tough to find other types of spiritual writing on the site. If you have something you would like me to highlight, please do share it with me, thanks!
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Here are some responses to my last newsletter "Spiritual Newsletter (December 12, 2018)" The Hope of Advent:
From pumpkin :
There's a lot to be said about hope. I think of Christopher Reeves (Superman who was thrown from a horse). His spinal cord was severed. He was always physically active and conscious of his appearance, now was an invalid. He couldn't do anything for himself and hated for people to look at him. He never gave up hope for a spinal cord miracle in science. He paid therapists to work out his limbs and keep him agile so he would be ready when the cure came. He died before that happened but his doctors said it was in his chemical makeup to be positive. I feel like it's in my chemical makeup too. It's more than just training since childhood or religious beliefs. It's just easier for some of us to hold onto hope.
Then there's the individual versus the corporate hope. I know individuals going through cancer treatment. I don't want them to give up, but I can't push them because I'm not the one suffering from the treatment side effects. If I had to endure what they are feeling every day, I might give up, too.
As for the world view, the Bible tells us we are all flawed. To be human is to be inadequate and sinful. That would mean human institutions, including governments and the church, are flawed and doomed to fail. We will never experience peace on earth if left to our own devices. This is where we need divine faith. God has a better plan than what we can imagine for mankind. If we don't have that hope, how can we go on? Hope sounds like a light and cheerful topic, but it's really very heavy.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
From Editing is BLUE :
Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the songs, the Hallmark movies and the classics. I love the stories of redemption. When you stop and think about all the books written, ever, other than the Bible no book has made a bigger impact on our world than Charles Dickens Christmas Carol.
I didn't know that about A Christmas Carol, thanks for sharing.
Thanks for all your comments - keep them coming! Until next time, Happy New Year! Sophy
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