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Hallo again to all.

At last the three arrive in Bethlehem. Three kings? Court astronomers? Something other? No matter. They take their place in The Story. As TS Eliot imagined:

  A cold coming we had of it,
  Just the worst time of the year
  For a journey, and such a long journey:
  The ways deep and the weather sharp,
  The very dead of winter.*

One wonders about their expressions and moods as they drew nearer to the place where they would find the Christ child. Surely they must have had some expectation of a palace or at least a comfortable country house, and instead they find themselves in something closer to a hovel. MyrrhWas there muttering amongst The Three as they trekked through the last few alleys and narrow byways, 'Can this be right? Do you still see the star? Surely this can't be the way?'. And so on. Does anyone think their attitude was 'Ah, yes, here we are. Just what we expected. How perfect!'

On this eve of 'The Feast of the Epiphany or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles', we muse about expectations and reality, clarity and elusiveness. The Manifestation was a squirming, squealing, soiling baby. Yet, in some manner, through this astonishing packaging of the sarx shone God Almighty. Some years later we glimpse a worrisomely lost young boy in the Temple, where we just catch a sideways glance at His teaching the doctors and at intimations of His authority before he is scooped up once again by his relieved family, only a boy after all. At times it seems as if Our Lord is seen more clearly by peripheral vision, caught for a moment with clarity off at the side, then being harder to see as we turn to see Him more fully. A hazelnut, a little thing.Full frontal clarity can be dangerous to unprepared hearts and minds, even for a mind and heart as prepared as Moses' on Sinai. Too often we do look through a glass darkly; there is greater clarity towards the edges than straight on.

We're not suggesting that God plays a deliberate peekaboo with His creatures, but rather that our limited perceptions, mediated by five senses, can only grasp so much. If time itself is a taxonomy that our consciousness imposes in order to make sense of the world, how can we possibly understand what it would mean to be outside time, as God? If now and then saints and mystics approach a luminous understanding of God, surely that often comes from years of praying and meditating on the smallest things, the most ordinary of incidences, the most obvious of nouns. One thinks of Lady Julian and her hazel nut.

It was our privilege recently to learn about a young woman named Christen, alas, only after her death—from a eulogy by her impossibly brave father, the Reverend Stephen White. He gave us permission to introduce AO readers to Christen and tell you about her remarkable encounter, on the edges. It is for us a tale very appropriate for the Epiphany.

In this year of grace 2003, we hope to pay more attention to the movement of love and light on the periphery, to expect the unexpected, no matter what form it takes—even if it's nothing in the world like we expected. And then, after all the windings and turnings and strange encounters and false starts and beginnings again, in the end and at the end,

  Not in that poor lowly stable,
  With the oxen standing by,
  We shall see Him; but in heaven,
  Set at God's right hand on high...**

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 5 January 2003

*TS Eliot, The Journey of the Magi

**Once in Royal David's City, text by Mrs C F Alexander, 1848

© 2003 The Society of Archbishop Justus, Ltd