Saturday, January 6, 2018


We have arrived at the feast of Epiphany, an observance older than Christmas, celebrated since the third century, to commemorate the visit of the Magi--the Wise Men, the Three Kings--to Bethlehem, where they saw the infant Jesus, and in him, perceived God.

The word "epiphany" is derived from the Greek word for "manifestation," and that word is included in most definitions: "a sudden manifestation of deity..a hidden message," "a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new way," and, in James Joyce's words, for he wrote often of epiphanies, "a sudden spiritual manifestation."

One of the most famous works associated with Epiphany is Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," written for a performance in the court of James I on January 6--which is both Epiphany and the twelfth night after Christmas. Often quoted is T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi," beginning "A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of year.." ("The worst time of year"--a phrase from a 1620 sermon by Lancelot Andrewes.)

"Journey of the Magi" is also the title of a wonderful book--part adventure, often comic--by Paul William Roberts, an English, Toronto-based journalist who set out to travel the route of the Wise Men ("the men from the East") from Tehran to Bethelehem.

These are all writings we're drawn to in January, and another is "The Four Wise Men" by Michel Tournier, a work of stunning originality. One critic wrote, "There is a real touch of magic in this novel."

Finally, we remember a poem similar to Eliot's on the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, but much more lighthearted. In it, the Wise Men stay with the Holy Family until Jesus is a toddler, and he and his little friends have fun riding the camels. Somehow, we have lost this poem, and can't remember the writer's name. If you do, please let us know. Reward: a bag of frankincense. Sorry, we're out of gold.

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