Look up!

When I was small, I had weak eyesight and developed a habit of looking at the ground to see where I was going. I remember the exact place but not the year when my father said to me in exasperation, ‘For heaven’s sake, look up!’ 


If the ‘wise men from the east’ had been looking at the ground all the time they would never have seen the star. ‘We have seen his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ In a recent book called, Chastity, Reconciliation of the Senses, Norwegian monk and bishop Erik Varden writes, ‘It is time to effect a Sursum Corda, to correct an inward-looking horizontalizing trend in order to recover the transcendental dimension of embodied intimacy, part and parcel of the universal call to holiness’. 

Sursum Corda, lift up your hearts, is an invitation we hear every time we participate in the Eucharist. Varden’s slightly forbidding language invites us to move out of ourselves and he does not hesitate to allude to sexual intimacy. Seeking the other – and not ourselves – is central to holiness.

This may all seem rather far away from the journey of the Magi to seek the new-born king in Bethlehem but the impulse is the same: it is the urge to set out and seek what is grasped in a hidden way when we speak of a rising star. Their search got entangled in Herod’s intrigues and they lost sight of the star for a while. But they soon found it again and Matthew tells us, ‘The sight of the star filled them with delight.’ They found the child and from then on, in T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘We returned to our places, these kingdoms / but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, / with an alien people clutching their gods.’

Epiphany means ‘showing’. The people who lived in darkness set out to see who it was that was drawing them to himself. They found him and they rejoiced. They were no longer ‘at ease’ with the old ways, Varden’s ‘inward-looking horizontalizing trend’. Their eyes were open. They were the Gentiles, our ancestors, of whom Simeon spoke: ‘the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see.’  

We live in Zimbabwe in 2024. We live in the midst of a flat earth where disappointment and frustration are never far away. We are absorbed in all the implications of an economy that only satisfies a minority. We can be trapped by the flat horizon of our daily lives. Yet we have rounded hills and granite mountains to remind us that the world is not flat but tapers off into an infinite horizon of which we are part. As seekers of Jesus, we can no longer be at ease in this old dispensation. While we grapple with our flat earth, we have the vision of a new earth drawing us forward. That is the good news of Bethlehem. It may be surrounded by rubble now but that is not the whole story.

Epiphany, 7 January 2024 Is 60:1-6 Ep 3:2-6 Mt 2:1-12  


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