What is this?

‘Curiosity killed the cat,’ they say. Our beautiful marmalade cat did die of curiosity when it explored too far in the rafters and got stuck and no one heard its cries. But that doesn’t mean curiosity is a bad thing.

Our inventions and discoveries all come from curiosity and St Augustine of Hippo spoke eloquently of it though I don’t remember where. There is a story in Matthew’s gospel (chap. 2) about three wise men, later promoted by the Middle Ages to kings, searching for the ‘new born child.’ They came ‘from the east’ and had quite a time of it, as T S Eliot tells us.

‘A cold coming we had of it. Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp. The very dead of winter.’

Yet their curiosity about ‘his’ star led them to persevere ‘even though the villages were dirty and charging high prices.’ Eventually, as we know, they ‘were filled with delight and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary’. ‘Search and you will find,’ Luke tells us (11:9). ‘Find’ could be rendered ‘it will be revealed to you’ as the two other parts of the saying read ‘it will be given to you’ and ‘it will be opened to you.’ We do the searching, asking and knocking. God does the revealing, answering and opening. So it was with the wise men. So it is with us. Jesus was revealed to them which is what ‘epiphany’ means. And if we search he will be revealed to us.

They had a long journey on foot or riding on camels that were, Eliot again, ‘galled, sore-footed, refractory.’ But, for us, the journey is inward. Turning to Augustine again, he writes in the Confessions, ‘Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you! For behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside and in my ugliness fell upon those things that you have made’ (Bk.10).

What we call the feast of the Epiphany in early January is an invitation not to be satisfied with our practices and prayers but to journey inwards to where God dwells in each of us. We will find him there. We will not easily find him in the noise and babble of the world around us. Eliot beautifully captures the trials of the wise men –‘the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly’ – but our own journey within can also be beset with difficulties. Foremost among them is the struggle to be silent and find a quiet place and a quiet time. And then there is the call to let God reveal what he wants, not what I want. We call this the ‘obedience of faith’ – a phrase found at both the beginning (1:5) and the end (16:26) of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is a phrase which sums up his whole message as to how we can totally accept the gift he offers at his birth in Bethlehem.

Feast of the Epiphany 2012

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