I have been fortunate to have encountered magi several times on this path I am traveling in my life. The magi in my life are not always archetypal robed Kings riding camels across majestic sand dunes. Nevertheless, encountering magi is always an unexpected, eye-opening experience…an epiphany. Magi bring wisdom that is has not been apparent to us in the way we typically move through the world. Magi are following a quest, a higher call to which they are responding in ways that to us seem like blind faith or crazy science. Magi come bearing gifts that are precious and symbolic. We may easily dismiss these gifts as somehow not intended for us. But, when we encounter the magi, we are transformed, and we may come to see ourselves in new and divinely inspired ways. So, on this day of Epiphany, I decided to reflect on these gifts from the magi who have crossed my path, leaving traces of wisdom and precious gifts to guide me on my journey.
In the Epiphany narrative, gold is the first gift bequeathed by the Magi visiting the young Jesus. Gold embodies a precious, gleaming, royal beauty that does not rust or tarnish the way many of our everyday, practical metals do. Gold becomes more beautiful and more valued with time, and is treasured and passed along from generation to generation. Knowledge is gold to me. The magi in my life have gifted me with the precious gifts of knowledge. My teachers across my life span have bestowed knowledge of how to write, how to construct meaning, understand human behavior, conduct research, empower change, think critically and practice reflexively. I can recall the moments when a teacher saw in me a glimmer of something yet to emerge, the spark of knowledge that could be ignited, and treasured. These gifts of knowledge make life rich, rewarding, and precious. I treasure these gifts, more precious on every step of my journey as it unfolds.
Frankincense swirls around me, wafts of mystery surrounding me. I close my eyes and breathe in, slowly and deliberately. I take mystery deeply into my soul when I encounter these magi. The healers and guides who have entered my life, who have given me the gifts of presence, who have welcomed questioning, who have invited me to be still, and know. There are magi in my life who are from many lands and many faiths, all of whom teach me to enter into mystery and welcome the encounter for exactly what it offers. The movement of spirit, the power of mystery, the music of the spheres, the depth of poetry, the imagination of art, the sacred space of divine presence: these are the lingering gifts that remain from my encounters with the magi. I revisit the songs, stories, poems, and prayers, tangible reminders of these encounters of spirit. These perfumes linger, reminders of the gift of frankincense.
“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying sealed In the stone cold tomb.” I sang this lyrical refrain of We Three Kings as a child, and that verse was always my favorite. I wasn’t depressed, nor was I (or am I) sad or melancholy by nature. I found these words beautiful, resonant, and hopeful. “Sorrowing” and “Soaring” are merely an inflection away from each other. I could hear that similarity in the words, and feel their linkages in my soul. The magi who bequeathed myrrh in the Epiphany narrative must have visited me early in life and whispered in my ear, “do not be afraid.” These magi have crossed my path and guided my vocational choices. I have felt the nearness of the magi during the quiet expanses of time when I am present with the dying. There are earthly magi who have helped me learn, who have encouraged me to be boldly and calmly present with death. There are magi who visit me when I sit with the grieving, or as I surround the dying with my thoughts and prayers. I cannot explain why it is that I am called to this end-of-life work, or drawn to be present with those who grieve. Even now, a time in my life where I research and write and teach, I see magi on the horizon. The magi are waiting, knowing we have a journey to make together. Right now, I am building knowledge like precious gold; my spirit soars like the wafting frankincense as I contemplate where I have travelled already and where my journey will lead me next. But, what I have always known is that myrrh is mine especially, my gift of the magi.