reprinted from Jan. 5/6, 2008
Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary have a new book out entitled The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. This book is about the connection that exists between the brain, awareness, and spirituality. The authors repeat the now familiar wisdom that some research has articulated - that it seems that we are wired for God, that our brains have a "God spot," a "God gene," or a "God helmet," that if not exercised, results in a kind of God deprivation, manifesting itself in anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. But these authors go further. They discuss research about a near death experience of someone clinically death with a flat EEG, but still, nonetheless, aware. They speak of mind and consciousness as being fundamentally connected to an ultimate Ground Being, who is God.
I thought of the book as I prepared for the Feast of the Epiphany. The identity of the Magi is still discussed among many. Some feel they were Persian priests, others Babylonian astronomers or astrologists, others spice traders. Whoever they were, they were non-Jews; they were looking for something or someone; and they were being told within themselves that this someone was a Jewish child born near Bethlehem. In ancient thinking, whenever a new ruler was born, a new star appeared. Thus, they followed what seemed to be a newly appearing star to find this someone they were in pursuit of.
The Magi represent the universal human family. All of us are hungry and thirsty for meaning and purpose in life. The Christian scriptures and tradition are saying what the human mind and heart are searching for is embodied in the person of Jesus.
In Matthew's gospel, the gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus, definitely tracing His roots back to Abraham and David. Then there is the birth, using surprising, unconventional imagery that this Messiah has come for the poor, the broken, the least in society; then these searchers finding Him. Matthew's gospel then opens out into the ministry, the teachings, and the miracles of Jesus, as He reveals what the Reign of God is. There is the story of His death and Resurrection, and then Matthew's gospel closes in Chapter 28 re-echoing the message of the Magi: Go out to all the world, Jesus says to us, and share with the world what I have revealed to you.
The term epiphany means revelation or manifestation. To some of us, the meaning of life has been revealed in and through the person of Jesus. We are to realize that all people are hungry and thirsty for who He is and what He embodies, and we should do our best to share what we have experienced, especially with those who have not experienced it yet.
The Isaiah reading this week, from Chapter 60, re-echoes this theme of universalism, that Jesus is the deepest satisfaction of the hungers and thirsts of the entire human family. Paul repeats this in Ephesians when he names the Gentiles (the non-Jews) co-heirs of what Jesus has brought to the world, what Jesus offers us.
In Luke's gospel in the genealogy, we will find this universalism expanded further as Jesus' roots are traced back to Adam, the father of the human family. And in Luke's gospel, the universalism theme is dramatized by Jesus' openness to, time spent with, and ministry to diverse types of people, many of whom were unacceptable to religious leaders of the time.
What is striking in this passage from Matthew is the figure of Herod. Herod is supposedly a religious man. As king of the Jewish people, when he hears of the birth of the child, he gathers all the chief priests and scribes for an interpretation of the scriptures as to who this child might be. His curiosity about the child is self-focused. If there is such a new king being born, he is a threat to what Herod is about - control, power, and pleasure. He orders the massacre of the innocents and kills many young Jewish boys in an attempt to eradicate this potential new king. The scene is reminiscent of Pharaoh trying to eliminate young, Jewish males for fear someone is coming (that is Moses) who will liberate the Jews from Egypt. This account from Matthew's gospel reminds me that often the status quo of religion will not be facilitating of Jesus or the Jesus movement. Thus, if we are interested in the meaning for life that Jesus has to offer, we often have to sidestep the "Herod's," who ultimately are out to eliminate Him.
A book that supports some of the message of the Magi story is a book by Slawomir Biela entitled God Alone Suffices. The book progresses through a list of a number of illusions that people try to find meaning for their lives in and through. Biela says that as we live, most of these illusions or mirages fail us, and ultimately we are led to the awareness that only ultimate God-reliance brings meaning and purpose to our lives.
Richard Rohr, in his new book Things Hidden, talks about this discovery as the discovery of a mutual indwelling between God, Jesus, the Spirit, and us. He quotes from Simeon, the new theologian (949-1022). The quote is Hymn 15 in Simeon's book Hymns of Divine Love. "We awaken in Christ's body as Christ awakens our bodies, then I look down and see my poor hand is Christ. He enters my foot, and is infinitely me. I move my hand, and wonderfully my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him. I move my foot and all at once He appears in a flash of lightening. Do my words seem blasphemous to you? Then open your heart to Him and let yourself receive one who is opening to you so deeply. For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ's body, where all our body all over, every most hidden part of it, is realized in joy in Him. And He makes us utterly real, and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed, and in Him recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light; we awaken as the beloved in every last part of our body."
This week, like the Magi, let us seek the One who seeks to transform us and to make us whole and radiant in His Light.