Home by a Different Way
Among other things, January 6 was Epiphany on the Christian liturgical calendar—a day when the wise men were warned in a dream that Herod intended despicable ill will toward the newborn holy child. “And so,” as Matthew recorded in his version of the events, “the wise men went home by a different way.”
I don’t take this story literally but I take it seriously, because it’s a myth, and myths always offer us vitally important truth.
“Epiphany” means “to encounter a god.” Isn’t it interesting that in this story the encounter with God takes place in a moment of extreme peril? What did the wise men really see, really understand in the midst of those terrifying circumstances? What was illumined for them in that dangerous moment? Whatever it was, rather than cowering in fear, the kings were empowered to make a courageous choice, and they chose to go home by a different way.
Like you, on January 6 I watched in shock as armed vigilantes stormed the Capitol building, disrupting House and Senate sessions and threatening legislators. The mob had been set into motion by the sitting President of the United States. “Unfathomable, but not unexpected,” as one commentator put it, the same outcome history has seen countless times when unchecked lies and poisonous rhetoric have been unleashed on vulnerable communities. This was a full-scale attack on our democratic system of government. It was a failed coup, built on lies intent on stealing the power that fuels the common good. The current President made a desperate grab this week for even more power than he’s been reaching for these past four years. He’s been able to succeed because the people around him have let him.
It was an electrically shocking moment, but such nuclear moments have the power to show us something like an x-ray of our soul, or in this case the soul of our nation. And, the wisdom traditions of the world’s religions all tell us that truth is dialectical, so the glimpses of truth that we each catch in these moments is partial. But if we put our truths together we can figure out our circumstances more completely, more accurately, more truly. And together, we can find a better way to go forward.
I can imagine a good future for our country, this beautiful experiment in freedom and fairness that has been such a beacon to people around the world for just a few hundred years. Not the way we’ve practiced it throughout all our history, and certainly not as we’ve practiced it recently. But as this democracy is envisioned by all the people who’ve told us at great personal risk that this beautiful vision has been denied, withheld, or corrupted for too many who look like them. They’ve also shared their ideas for how our democracy can become more inclusive and abundant for all.
Getting to that good future may or may not involve a full, true epiphany, but like the three kings in Matthew’s story, if we want to get there safely we’re going to have to figure out a way home that’s very different from the way we arrived at this sad and frightening moment. To begin, the new ways will have to be more inclusive, equitable, and fair for everyone, not just a select elite group.
The good news is that we are not the first to have been in such dire circumstances, and those who’ve been here before have left us good stories that can help. Even better, we have each other. And like the scholars and the elephant, if we work together we’ll have a much better chance of more accurately mapping this conundrum and finding our way forward together, into a more equitable, just future for all.
Namaste friends, and Blessings,