Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Epiphany: There are Herods...

I belong to a Small Christian Community in which we meet one morning a week to discuss our lives, world events and the readings for the following Sunday. Sounds fairly unexciting, I suppose, to those unfamiliar with the idea.
This group began in a local parish some years back as part of the RENEW process, where a large segment of the parish divided into groups like this for weekly discussion, following an order of procedure that would keep us unified with the Sunday's theme. The idea was to build community as people began sharing their faith with one another in a safe environment, to build faith, and to make the Sunday liturgy more meaningful, since we would come to it prepared to listen and hear its message to us.
In the beginning it was my parents who belonged to the group, but when I moved here six years ago, after Mom's death, Dad was hosting the group. It was a leaderless group in some ways--a la Scott Peck, where everyone took responsibility. Dad always had a relevant book going on a topic relating to the Church and would report on it. Sr. Helen brought to us issues of social justice, especially relating to the prisons. Connie became the parish representative who brought us our weekly reflection pages. Mary brought bakery treats. Caroline brought articles of interest.
We are actually something of a maverick among such groups. While the parish stresses the importance of using the reflection pages as our guide, we have tended to go more with whatever topic strikes us as important. Sometimes that means discussing our lives; sometimes it's current events. But we always end with the readings of the Sunday following, where, we've come to realize, we will always find answers to the questions we've raised.
The week before Epiphany one couple present was pondering their future--to return to Spain, where their retirement would be much more affordable, or to remain in California, close to their children. After agonizing over the choices, each of which posed gains and losses, they discovered in the Gospel the reminder of God's both leading the magi to the Christ Child and returning them safely to their own land.
In my own life a troubling question arose in those days leading up to Epiphany--one involving a move I didn't feel ready for. After worrying over the problem, I told myself I would hear my answer in the Sunday's readings once more, and especially in the homily. For I'm finding, in this church, that as often as not the homily zeroes in on what's bugging me, like an arrow hitting the bull's eye.
Sure enough. After talking about the Magi and the star in general terms, Fr. John said, "Now, this is how this all strikes me in my own life. We all have areas in which we are alienated, from which we need to be restored to our sense of belonging. "(That was the message of the first reading.) The Magi come to that in finding the Christ they were looking for, who offers the whole world salvation. God led them to that unerringly. I quote this loosely, but the next words were his exactly: "But...BUT, there are Herods in our lives." What this reading tells us is that sometimes God has to lead us back to our home by another route. It may not be the way we thought we needed to travel, but God will take us safely on our way.
Since I have some traveling in the offing, some life changes to make, this spoke powerfully to me. I don't see yet which way I will need to go, but I am reassured that God will show me when the time is right, as He showed the wise men in a dream.

As a postscript, I wonder if those irritating early morning awakenings, when we recall all the difficulties our life poses and can only lie and agonize over them, --if those awakenings are like the dreams people like Joseph and the wise men had. There's something about the things we sweat over in those early hours that is naked and exposed. We're unable to cloak the issues in the rationalizations of daylight, and can only gaze on them in their stark spectral form. Painful but true. Material for prayer or despair.


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