Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page
The wise men. The learned men. The ancient priestly caste –king-makers, with the wealth and knowledge to travel. When you were born into something. Maybe like at the end of housing bubbles, with the bloated ego of ancient chosen people and latter day saints, in a quest both for survival, with the search for meaning.
Power. Dwelling within the Parthian empire. At the time just prior to the common era which is now numbered with the birth of Jesus, magi formed the upper house of the council of the Megistanes, whose duties included the election of the king. Adept at interpreting dreams, magi practiced astrology as well as at the time a hybrid of astrology of what is now called astronomy. Arsacid rulers were titled the King of Kings, as a claim to be the heirs to the the First Iranian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire.
And so the wise men, without any knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and their greatest commandment TO KNOW God, in order that you might have what I had, in what seemed a normal way of life.
There was the totalitarian world, with whatever your world view. As Christian. As Muslim. As Jew. How faithful would your children be about remaining kosher? Would the Catholic child keep attending Mass? Would the Jew or Muslim child maintain a kosher diet? And perhaps you had grown up in an era under the Soviet system which attempted to impose no belief, but oversaw through internal passports where you could live exactly. Or maybe you knew of modern Iran, which more and more seemed to be using the ways of Lenin for their own system of power in the Muslim world.
There was a grave threat to belief and unbelief in the days when Russia imposed the Marxism in the early 1920s. There was a grave threat to belief in the Western world, by youth born after all the mergers and acquisitions, and the take-overs in the last 1980s and early 1990s.
Hostile take-overs. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, with the three wisdom-figures whose whole spirituality was based on interpreting those celestial beings, following a single unknown star in a sky that seemed alive – in the dark. And like in Rashi’s interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, in this story of another re-creation, God‘s spirit was hovering. These guys seemed to have come from an area like Kurdistan, if you looked into it.
And so the appearance of the outsiders in the Christmas story, in the connection of Atonement to the story of inheritance and birthrights. Did these three guys remind you of the three men who showed up to Abraham and he “ordered” Sarah to start preparing a feast? Or had it been the handmaid of Sarah, who had had this handmaid which was really nothing but a slave?
Three kings, Gentiles, asking questions, seeking answers? When darkness had been on the face of the deep. Was there shame in what the educated did not know? When epiphany is triggered by a new, key piece of information, but with a depth of prior knowledge, importantly, required to allow the leap. Was there a connection here in the story between the three Parthians to the doubt shared at this stage between Joseph and Mary, at the start of their new relationship. Was there shame in what these privileged three guys thought they knew, at the beginning when they set off. For Bethlehem?
Knowledge. As it was in the beginning. “The Lord God caused to sprout from the ground every tree pleasant to see and good to eat, and the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” From a commandment to somehow KNOW GOD now from darkness come the three wise men who were somehow moved by God. Note the movement toward Bethlehem — with atonement, by God for all the present, past, and future annihilation. Note the movement in the story just as the wandering Jew was to become an outsider once again, there were the wise men in the story.
To take something so private public. Over and over, these stories about how someone allowed God to take them. Like He might take me. When epiphany was all about A Messiah. A bizarre idea to, on the surface, sacrifice the future, in Your son. And the involvement of the public power in the story — stopping in to see Herod. How could you miss over and over all the human shame in the story? The same things that happened to Isaac at the end of the story on Mount Moriah – when he took another way home, separate from Abraham.
So, exactly whose business was it about this “virgin” birth? Exactly whose business was it about the relationship between Joseph and Mary? Two people from two homes try to merge their ideas, with two personalities, of what is an appropriate environment for their child. And learning each other’s strangeness. Yeah, as if it was anyone else’s concern in the private lives of this couple – whether a couple would remain kosher. With the concern of all the latter day saints about the degree of how good, how orthodox, so who really knew at the time of the virgin-part of the birth? And now these three.
Who knew about this virgin birth? And who really cared? Was this just the perversions of Gentile people, by the all these latter day saints, in all of the strangeness of God, which missed the discussion of the Messiah. With the commandment about having “no strange gods before Me”, did you ever note in his lifetime the care taken by Jesus about his identity of Messiah.
Crossings. And never being the same. Scripture is nothing but the history of how people who went before us learned not so much how to pray, but to know the strangeness of God. And so this great mystery story. On this day, at this time of year, with all the darkness in the story. This “other way” is what EPIPHANY means, applying in a situation of an enlightening realization which allows the situation to be understood from a new deeper perspective. And so the experience of sudden and striking realization, without the clouds of perhaps a rather extensive language barrier?
Rashi says, in the beginning –and maybe in all the re-creations, too — if you get the small details wrong, the big picture will be wrong too.
In my own Illiad and Odyssey, I was looking at the old cemetery in the part of the city when the Jews had been segregated. So how could the God of the Hebrew Bible survive once the Jews had discovered the entire world? Once you had discovered all the people of the world. In the scattering, what would happen to the realization of One God, for such a limited number of people? Outside the Garden?
Herodotus, the far roaming Greek writer, wanted to know why cultures wage war against each other. The Polish writer Kapuściński noted that Herodotus was “the first to discover the world’s multicultural nature, the first to argue that each culture requires acceptance and understanding, and that to understand it, one must first come to know it.”
Exile. Movement. The leaving. The coming back. And the Good Book. There was this false conceit to look at the publishers of books as gate-keepers. There is no gate and there never has been one, when it comes to what gets published. It is the wrong approach… the perspective now of a publisher was that of enthusiasm – shared. The problem developed here when leaders seemed to be using someone else’s Cliff Notes. Learning how to read and how to write in the tactile world, caught in the big squeeze of a new birth canal of books….how to make the connection with kids to KEEP them reading.
Immersion reading and this “other way.” Did you feel Abraham’s presence in the story of stars when God told Abram, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you.” Did you remember the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah after God descended to see the righteous destroyed like the wicked — just as in the story of Isaac? Could you not hear the words of the Hebrew Bible? “By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, that because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one, that I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies.”
Immersion reading versus research-based work of the academy. In the International Summit of the Book, a panelist in December 2012 spoke how in her first job involving children’s books, the job changed her view of not just what children books were, but what children books could be. There was other discussion of the transition online — all the transition online with the book — and to online resources “for our constituents.” And not all that dissimilar to the three wise men, there was the need with either books or theology then connecting that God – my God – to the future. And so there were these three kings, connecting the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, to the Father of Jesus. And in reading the stories, to somehow connect this one God to all of the world. Did you see the problem with the pope and his basis of power as to his self-interest in making the connection — or not — to the people of the Parthian empire, under Arsacid rulers claiming to be heirs to the the First Iranian Empire. King of kings. Shah of shahs. Not unlike the change in focus in the New Testament from the Old. When Christians too often felt the Hebrew Bible was not relevant — maybe like so many people born after the hostile take-overs who felt that Christianity was not relevant.
And so another CREATION STORY. When darkness had been on the face of the deep…on the face of the water – God said, “Let there be light.”
Wisdom. It is said that despite its popular image, “epiphany is the result of significant work on the part of the discoverer, and is only the satisfying result of a long process.”
Knowledge, beyond the darkness. The goal of living was in passing something on. It was always the goal– to pass something on to the next generation. Like knowledge if not wisdom. And Mary, wondering about all the men in the story? Maybe wanting a bit more privacy from the outside world, as three wise guys were offering to interpret dreams, so that this couple might just survive. An infant Jesus, already threatened by closer kings, never a messiah until he died. With Joseph off talking about dreams, if not standing in the long line of the census, to register his belonging, if not his existence from and to the House of David. And young Mary, back at the cave inhabiting — or what modern travelers describe — a cave. Did Mary ever hear the echo of complaint of young women who objected that in this story just as in the study of history, there were no other people of her gender in this story, which made a woman feel so “invisible,” as though she did not, would not, qualify as a real person? Or in just the suppression of their own fertility at a young age?
How about the strangeness of the story? In the scene of a new mother and father with their infant, an involvement of the public power in the stories so private — with king-makers, most probably with their own servants, stopping in to see Herod. And feeling the suppression in the story, and the desire to suppress. Wise men, outsiders without much known baggage, from a world of their own independent rule, thinking to stop by the local king. And maybe escaping their own totalitarian world of bloated rulers of Chosen People and latter day saints, in a quest both for survival, with the search for meaning. For Bethlehem. Those coming from an area much closer to the Garden of Eden than Palestine was.
In the story of power and might, note the change in the spiritual direction in the dénouement of the story, from the deep emotion that came out of the story of a virgin birth, occurring in a cave. As Three Wise Men sense something that threatened a baby and a mother, there is the deep emotion in the story for every person on earth, when God is perceived to be threatened, along with the excitement when God is with us – now. To have witnesses of the initial public offering, of God manifest. To take something so private public and return home with a sense of right and wrong – there was this very real danger in the story in the discovery that God is with us every moment that they were alive. Did you feel the change in the personal connection after finding the Prince of Peace, by these king-makers? I wondered what later happened with a new sense of direction, to the king-makers? Whether they got a sense of direction in issues of justice, with the very real dangers in all the world.
To take something so private public. Did you ever realize how personal this all had been — maybe a lot like the act of reading is — or even worshiping can be? Dealing with life and death and goodness, the three wise men coming before Jesus, to try and worship a Living God. In some kind of living vedric astrology based upon both the place and the time of birth, carrying gifts symbolic of life, death, and goodness — in the gold, frankincense and myrrh somehow connected to the old stories of birthright which came out of the story of the Akedah? To somehow make a connection of their kingdom with, not the significant work of the past but in the human emotional response, Another. In Kurdistan, where in the last 30 years more than 40,000 people have died and the survivors have been so suppressed. Closer to the place where Noah built his ark, with hopes to avoid extinction so often on the mind.
Father Paolo Dall’Oglio
Kurdistan, Kurdistan Workers’ Party
Leyla Soylemez, Fidan Dogan