When I imagine the magi, I see them in dark robes, alternating between hunching over tables with maps of the stars and staring intently at the night sky, using whatever technology was available to them to advance their knowledge. They are scholars who set out on their journeys because they have seen a new star and they want to understand its import. They are people who trust in what they see and what they can study, but somewhere along the way they also become people of faith. They begin to trust in revelation, in truth that is simply revealed, in truth that cannot be accounted for in charts and maps. They pay homage to this new king and even listen to their dreams, deciding to return home a different way in order to avoid Herod who wishes to do this new baby harm.
When I first think about the magi, I see only the difference between them and me. The magi are men who lived half a world away two centuries ago. The magi didn’t become believers until the middle of their lives, when they entered the house to find Mary with her holy child. In contrast, my parents baptized me when I was an infant, so I have never not been a believer (which is not the same as never having asked any questions, because I have plenty of those!).
But on another level, I understand the journey of the magi. Like them, I often trust in what I can see and what I can study. This was especially the case when I was applying for college. During my junior and senior years in high school, in a fit of overzealousness, I visited sixteen different colleges in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. Before deciding on where to apply, I made elaborate spreadsheets, so that I could compare all relevant information at one time. I sent out eight applications, and then made even more elaborate pro and con lists in an attempt to somehow figure out where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life. But for the first time in my life, the lists were not working. What was I to do?
Fortunately for me, in the midst of this dilemma, I had to go to the campus of Saint Olaf College for an interview for a possible scholarship. As I walked around campus, my lists and spreadsheets were the furthest thing from my mind. What I noticed, instead, was that a feeling of calm and contentment had come over me. It was a revelation—this was the right place for me!
Since that day walking around Saint Olaf, I still make pro and con lists and still trust a lot in what I can see and what I can study. But my experience taught me to trust in other things, too, particularly to trust that feeling of calm and contentment that comes over me when I just know something is the right thing to do. I see the hand of God in these small moments; they are my epiphanies.
How have you experienced epiphany in your life? What has been revealed to you? How does God manifest God’s self to you? In what do you put your trust?