The Eleventh Day of Christmas. Following the Star
Have you found the star yet? The one which guides you to the stable where the holy birth takes place? On this 11 th day of Christmas we have been surprised by how far along we already are on our journey. Have you noticed? We are almost there! We can see the wise men searching Bethlehem.
When the wise men heard about the "new born King," they went with haste on a long journey, not knowing their specific destination and only guided by what? A star? Who goes on a journey this way? Guided by a star, leaving everything behind (their kingdoms and convenient living at least!) not knowing where to go, not knowing when they will arrive, or even how they will know. Simply hoping they would be guided, they would find what they so deeply longed for. They set off on their journey, they followed the star, they asked questions, they took directions from those who might know.
Finding a spiritual companion
Today I met with my spiritual director. A lovely sister in this monastic community. She has walked with me now for several years. She has been welcoming to me when I walked through the dark night of my soul. She not only embraced my journey through the night, but assured me the night was part of the journey, a journey to the stable where the holy birth takes place, towards birthing the holy in my own life. She has been listening to my joys and sorrows since, gently accompanying me on the way.
Today, almost at the end of our journey this Christmas season I would like to ask you: Do you have a loving guide like this? Or do you rather think you must manage it alone? Or that your sorrows might not be serious enough to share them with a spiritual guide? As a therapist myself I know this feeling well. Shouldn't I be able to manage? Wouldn't it be odd that I would comfort people while not being able to comfort myself?
No, it isn't. Van Briere, a trauma expert once said in his workshop: The human journey is based on the Barbara Streisand principle: "People need people..." Indeed.
So today, as we ponder the story of the wise men on their journey towards the manger, asking where it might be, I want to encourage you to ask for guidance, too, in following the star to the Divine birth.
Because nights are dark, an experienced traveler, who has traveled by night before, would be a helpful guide. To have someone to listen to your voice, and to embrace you as who you are, where ever you are on your journey, is not only a healing experience but an essential aspect of the spiritual journey. To have someone who not only knows about the dark night of the soul, but who embraces it with love, knowing it will lead, eventually, to a birthing of the new and Holy. St. Benedict, that consummate guide, says in his rule that one should not be a lone hermit seeking God without long training in a community before going it alone.
Where can I find such a guide? First, we all know the benefit of being guided by wise men and woman before us and joining hands on our journeys. For a face to face encounter one way is to find the closest active monastery near you and to visit their guesthouse or spirituality center. You can always ask for a private retreat, a day or two, and for some one to talk to. Most monastic retreat centers have trained spiritual directors on staff and can assign one to you. And usually things fall wondrously in place. (I will start a series on spiritual direction here on this blog hopefully soon. I am also happy to consult with you on how to go about finding an experienced guide.)
The wise mens' journey. Read inwardly with Hildegard of Bingen
Yesterday we practiced looking at the Divine birth through the eyes of a child. Today I would like to offer some guidance about the story of wise men from the medieval Abbess and spiritual guide Hildegard of Bingen. In her Christmas homilies, she invites us to translate the Christmas story into the heart's journey. But what does Epiphany, the feast of the three kings, have to do with our heart's journey?
The three kings, says Hildegard, followed a star they have seen with the eyes of their "heart's knowledge." It was not, as cliche has it, their own star, but a star "coming from Divinity," promising them a new king who holds the "strength in Samson" and the "wisdom in Solomon."
Following the promise of this star led them away from all the cherished stars they held before, even away from their own stardom. This star "which went before them in upright perception and wisdom," led them to "God's grace" swaddled in the clothes of an innocent child. They found Divine gifts in this little child, gifts which would frighten rulers and threaten their worldly powers. Their heart's knowledge enabled them to see the Divine gifts and to follow the star. When they found the "new king," surprised by the sight of a newborn, they rejoiced in the wisdom of the Divine knowledge. "Their souls tasted heavenly things."
This star led them right into their innermost chamber, where the sinner lets go of sins and holiness arises, as Hildegard has it in her allegorical medieval language. Hildegard also translates the gifts the kings offer, who have become wise men on this inward journey, into an offering of their innermost riches. So bringing frankincense and myrhh to a shivering child does not seem so out of place any more.
Hildegard helps us to see that we have, all along, already been traveling with the kings on their journey. This is the journey of the heart we have walked in this Christmas season, to the place where Divine wisdom lies, guided by a star, away from what we considered urgent and important and towards the living God, who wants to dwell in us.
Here is the blessing my spiritual guide gave me this morning and which I now share with you. May it find you where you are. And peace to you on this journey!
by Kayleen Asbo
As the hours of darkness begin to slowly wane from the winter sky,
So too may the fearful places of your heart unclench their grasp on your life
As the presence of light begins to grow with greater sureness with each passing day
May your own courage blossom to open more brightly to truth and love.
Let this be the year that you turn off the television and silence the talk radio chatter
in order to pick up the writing pen, the paintbrush,
and watch the candle slowly burn.
May this be the year that you delight
in seeing how much joy you can extravagantly spread.
May you discover just how much beauty you can recklessly shower
upon this thirsty world.
May this be the year that you tune both the dusty piano in the corner
and the inner listening of your care-worn heart
So that both can play in harmony with the chorus of creation.
May you break the invisible yardstick of impossible expectations
and learn that just as you are,
you are enough.
May this be the year that you cease trying to march to an imagined ideal
and instead, wrap your arms around the messy wonder your life really is,
hold it close
and do the tango.
Let this be the year you befriend your soul in its radical particularity,
not forsaking it yet again for the bland demands and cravings of the masses.
Instead, may you elope with the wildness of your own true calling,
marry your soul to its deepest longings
and invite the hungry world to the wedding feast.