Wonder, Wisdom, and Meteorites
A few weeks before Christmas, many years ago, I visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. It houses the largest mosaic display in the world. The 83,000 square feet of beautiful mosaics inspired me to worship. A life-size Nativity adorned the Cathedral’s North transept. In the South transept three figurines on camel’s back seemed poised to move.
We saw the nativity assembled here during our Christmas Rock Pageant. Our peasant shepherds echoed God’s welcome of the poor and outcast. The twinkling star warned of God’s cosmic largesse. And the kings, long ago an expansion of our text’s Magi, followed that star. Epiphany’s multi-cultural kings tell of a child who will be an international Savior.
The Magi come to pay homage to the vulnerable newborn. The Greek word translated as homage means to “kiss the hand.” I love the image of the humble, hopeful kiss. What in our beautiful and dangerous world, calls you to bow to God, draws your kiss? Could an amazing Cathedral packed with religious art? Could this Sanctuary adorned with candles, banners, poinsettias and Nativity?
Have you ever bowed before God’s creativity at a zoo – bowed beside the giraffe, the orangutan, the dolphin? What about the woods and waters of Garrett County? I bowed with you, as I read your epiphany stories within your book of testimony, Moments of Grace. Have you ever bowed supporting an infant’s head? If the practices of prayer mystify you, if the arts of meditation baffle you, if the study of theology bores you, if silence terrifies you – practice “kissing the hand.” When you wonder seeing, smelling, hearing, touching or tasting the Source of Life around your life, pause – incline your head – give thanks, and kiss Christ’s small hand.
In the Gospel of Matthew a star shines forth a pathway to God for searchers of light and hope. No, the star was not a pre-scientific GPS device. While there has been great speculation as to astrological formations around the beginning of the Christian era, no alignment of planets, or meteors lead the Magi to Bethlehem. The Magi, deemed astrologer scientists of the day, wandered for wonder. They lifted their eyes and saw God’s starry promise, and they followed it to Bethlehem.
In a dry, mesa-ringed valley in New Mexico this past summer, I saw the stars, the cosmic depths of God’s creation. Dimmed by the perpetual illumination of our cities the star-lanes are less perceivable. Yet, friends, the stars remain. How many of us are too busy, or too preoccupied with technology to lie-down in our backyards gazing at the stars?
I remember late night rides in our old station wagon. My brothers slept. Ever an insomniac child, I stayed awake. I remember crooking my neck and watching the bright stars over rural Tennessee. I remember shooting stars. I pondered the size of the universe. I can’t say I thought up anything profound. I just remember watching the stars with amazement, feeling a comfortable smallness, cuddled in the backseat, brothers sleeping beside me, parents quietly up front. Those holy moments of star-gazing stretched my imagination providing room for God, helped me kiss the hand of God.
I lament DVD screens in vans and SUVs. I lament that children’s eyes are glued to those screens, instead of the fields, trees, and skies of God’s world.
I fear that my smart phone’s colorful screen draws my eyes too often from the wonder of the real world. I fear too many evenings watching TV or working on email keep me from the wonder of kissing God’s hand.
Celebrating Christmas, we string our homes and trees with bright tiny lights and glistening garlands. Everything shimmers with glitter and shine. Have you noticed that our Christmas trappings impersonate the blinking lights of the holy heavens? I surprisingly discovered pondering the lights on my Christmas tree late into the evening worshipful. The rapid spreading of candle light in this sanctuary on Christmas Eve is holy. Our God’s grace envelops us, the Incarnation of God in that Child so powerful, even our wax, plastic and glass models of the heavens help us kiss the hand of God.
It hurts a little taking the tinsel and lights down. I don’t want to take down my tree for it brings a taste of wonder to my home; our trees bring wonder to our streets. We needn’t fret, for our God uses all manner of things and ideas to lure us into relationship.
Today we celebrate Epiphany which means – “a showing.” We celebrate all of the gifts, all those moments of revelation, of God’s showings in our lives. The white-hot moment of Christian revelation is the birth story of Christmas. God’s light, God’s philosophy, God’s power, God’s charts, graphs and blueprints for Creation, God’s promises and love came down from the high heavens into a child in a manger. God moved from concept to matter, from Spirit to baby’s flesh, from faith to physical relationship. If we can learn to ponder the wonders of the stars, the miniscule miracles of molecules and atoms, the sounds of nature, even the soft skin of an infant child; if we can learn to wonder at the amazing things of life we will wander into a rapturous worship angels will envy.
Give thanks, for God provides as many avenues towards holy encounters as there are stars. So start wondering simply: take a watercolor class and study the varieties of color in God’s world. Meander into the depths of quantum physics or molecular biology and watch for God in the tiniest movements of energy and fragments of matter. Get season tickets to a symphony and listen for God’s majesty.
Ponder the food you eat and wonder how and by whom it came to your table. Buy a telescope and watch the stars. Sign up for a 48 hour silent retreat and learn to listen to God within yourself. Read the Bible again and ponder the people’s epiphanies. Decide to slow down. Decide to listen to silence. Decide to be attentive to life. Watch for shimmering stars of joy and wonder in your everyday living.
We can even listen to two sticks clacking against each other and be led to worship with joy. The Rev. Frederick Buechner records a personal epiphany within his novel, The Final Beast. He wrote of a young clergyman’s search for some proof of God’s existence. Visiting with his father he stretched out in the grass near his father’s barn. He closed his eyes and listened for a word from God. He listened for some assurance of God’s presence. He pleaded with God for a sign, a word, “Please, please come Jesus.” He swallowed and then raised his head to look at the sky expecting it to split open and for God’s splendor to pour down.
He lay in the grass with a wild expectation, with a very strong feeling that God would somehow be proven to him in a miracle. He waited a long time in the bright sunshine and nothing happened until. Buechner writes:
Two apple branches struck against each other with the limber clack of wood on wood. That was all – a tick-tock rattle of branches – but then a fierce lurch of excitement at what was only daybreak, only the smell of summer coming, only starting back again for home, but oh Jesus, he thought, with a great thump in his throat and a crazy grin, it was an agony of gladness and beauty falling wild and soft like rain. Just clack-clack, but praise him, he thought. Praise him. Maybe all his journeying, he thought, had been only to bring him here to hear two branches hit each other twice like that, to see nothing cross the threshold but to see the threshold, to hear the dry clack-clack of the world’s tongue at the approach of the approach of splendor.
Two clacks of wood on wood. A peasant infant in an animal trough. God on the silent wind and in the shining stars. Christ in the bread and the cup. Wonder friends. Wonder long and loud. Worship long and loud. Kiss the holy hand of God with joy. Amen.
Thanks to Jim Somerville’s Sermon, “Another Way” included in Lectionary Homiletics, Epiphany – January 6, 2002 and Frederick Buechner’s, The Final Beast, pp177-178 and The Alphabet of Grace, p6.