Where do we go from here?
The most incredible, unprecedented, life-changing declaration of love was made on that first Christmas morning. Angels singing, the sky was spilling with stars, and a special babe was born; He was ‘God in the flesh’ given to us. That day, God began a holy conversation with you, with me, with the whole of creation. The spiritual exchange is still happening— actually, in this very moment. Listen: “Farrell, my beloved! I am here. I am with you now, tomorrow, forevermore. I invite you on a journey of significance. You will never be alone. I will redeem all things. Rest assured, all will be more than well. I love you. Let me say it again, I love you.”
How do you or I respond to that kind of love—the “I’ll lay down my life for you love?”
Like the Magi, will we allow Christmas to change something—everything—in us, so it is impossible to go back the same way we came?
Christmas is God’s invitation to want more for your life, to dare a new path that will afford you a fullness of soul and regular joy. It is God asking you to draw closer under His wing and experience real peace. God is also hoping you and I will finally wake up to what truly matters here: a life lived from the heart where love is the reason and purpose for everything under heaven’s rim. St John Chrysostom said, “If you have found the way to your heart, you have found the way to heaven.”
Let’s time travel back to that first Christmas. The Gospel of Matthew describes three Magi, guided by a mystical star, who embarked on a 900-mile journey to Bethlehem.They had a holy inkling that there was something more to be experienced here on Earth, something they would be transformed by. They were in search of God.
We have taken many creative liberties embellishing this inspiring Christmas narrative. Early as the 3rd century, we crowned them kings. In a chronicle entitled, The Latin Barbieri, dating around the 8th century, we gave them names: Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior. We have the Renaissance Masters Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Da Vinci and Hieronymus Bosch to thank for inspiring our imaginations; richly adorning them in crimson, blue and royal purple robes, gold crowns and riding camels, even white elephants. We learn that their spiritual adventure wasn’t without some hiccups. They had some dark, lonely nights of the soul filled with doubts, convinced their “faith quest” was foolish. They also must have experienced genuine fear. And yet, something inspired them to press on. The reward of course was an audience with God on earth.
What I am interested in today is that ultimate moment, just after they had given Mary and Joseph the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, had taken their soul’s fill of the mystery, the wonder, the hope represented in that tiny babe in a manger, said their goodbyes, and then stepped back into the night. Back to earthly reality. They found themselves at a spiritual crossroads as we find ourselves today. In the quiet, with only their beating hearts to ground them, they had to ask themselves the most important question of their lives, the one we must ask ourselves today: Do we truly believe God did this and is with us now? If so, where do we go from here?
Saddling up their camels, tucking in enough provisions for the trip ahead they must have looked back over their shoulders at the way they had come and then back to the stable aglow. Easy it would have been for them to shrug off the epiphany, to return to what they knew, the familiar old way of life— safe, expected, comfortable.
It is the well-traveled path of rote daily routines, tired perspectives, relationships that we know are far less than they should be, a surface only connection with God. But for those “wise” travelers, the desire to feel something deeper, more sacred—a glimmer of heaven—spoke louder that day.
Christmas is just a folly if it doesn’t call forth something new in you and me. How simple and devastating it would be, and I’m sure you and I have done it in the past, to let another Christmas go by that doesn’t rally bravery to make a change, to try something new, to go deeper—to take another way home from Christmas 2021. W. H Auden said, “to discover how to be human now is the reason we follow the star.” That is only part. I would add we follow the star to discover how to be divine.
May we heed the warning expressed in Saint Augustine’s prayer: “God, I came to love You too late. You were inside me, but I was not inside you.”
In the quiet, when I feel tangled, lost, discouraged by metaphorical Herod’s—worlds away from heaven—this is my prayer: Dear God, where are you? Where am I? Find me. Close the distance.
God’s Love saves us when we are vulnerable enough to recognize we need saving.
We are told the Magi’s destination from Christmas was “Home.” I am intrigued by the many layers of meaning in the word “home.” There is our temporary home, here on earth, a place full of relationships, professions, and a daily liturgy of human life. But there is another home. “Home” with a capital “H.” It is a mysterious and mystical place that cannot be charted on a map; and yet our souls will spend their entire earthly existence trying to get as close as possible to it—this ultimate destination—the union of our hearts with the heart of God.
I confess I don’t completely understand the physics of how a compass works. Apparently, it detects and then responds to the Earth’s magnetic fields. You line up the orienting arrow on the compass with the red end of the magnetic needle to find your true north. I believe God embedded an invisible, interior compass at our center so you and I could always orient ourselves in the direction of God. The soul knows what is right, true and The Way! It is the broken world, with all its flaws and meanness that throws us off our faith course. Let us lean into the compass of our souls, that brilliant divine gift of intuition, to direct our paths.
As the story goes, two esteemed philosophers were deep in conversation about the meaning of life. One says, “I am aware of something in me which sparkles. I clearly perceive that it is something but what I cannot grasp. Yet it seems if I could only seize it I should know the truth.” To which the other philosopher leaped out of his seat and proclaimed, “Follow it boldly! For if you can seize it, you will possess the sum total of all good and have eternal life.”
We are as radiant as the love that is in us. God’s love for us, our love for God, our love for others. Love lights us up from the inside out so the darkness can never take us. When we trust Love to lead the way, like the Magi, we are people of the Star, and God will see us home.
Let’s just assume we all decide to take a different path home from this Christmas. We break out our compasses. Maybe we find we are not currently oriented in the right direction. The Pandemic has certainly upset our force field, and the political upheaval and round the clock “bad news” do not help either. Can we find again our True North?
Take a moment to do an internal accounting. What is the health of the important relationships in your life? Have you and I been loving enough and from the best in us? Do we feel loved in return and experience regular joy? When was the last time we felt peace—real, weighted-blanket peace? Or inspired? How close are we really to God? Does God know what we worry and dream about? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, hooray, this Christmas could not have come at a better time for you or me. Break out your compass! It is time to reorient ourselves in the direction of God.
Before we set off on the Magi faith journey, let us remember again who God is and what God promises us. I’ll give you my own quick resume. God is the one awake with you in the night as you ponder your big and small worries. The One who collects your tears and nudges you to rise for another day. God is with you both when you lose something big and gain something bigger. God is the one who knows you so intimately and loves you anyway and regardless. God is the one who sends earthly angels at the exact moment you need reinforcements. God is the one who forgives your flaws and chooses to focus on the goodness in you and what marvelous thing you will do next. God is the one who will be there when you take your final breath and lead you on to the hereafter.If this is not who you know God to be, hooray, this Christmas could not have come at a better time for you or me. Break out your compass! It is time to reorient our lives in the direction of God.
We know where we are right now. We have established who God to be. We know we have been given a fail-proof interior compass of the soul that can lead us in the way we are meant to go. Now to the fun part. Where do we want to go from here?! God says: Can you dream big enough? Can you imagine what your life could be with me beside you? For starts, I want to be loved for who I am—a holy but imperfect creature. I want to help someone else feel that way too. I want to connect to the spiritual magnetic field that is in and all around me, so when this temporary, sometimes mean and unmerciful material world disappoints, or scares me, I know with confidence that I am part of something bigger, something sacred. I want peace, soft, smooth and supple on the inside of me. I want to master the art of trust and finally surrender to God and His road map for me. I want to experience glimmers of heaven now, so I know where I am headed. I want the same for each of you. These are not pipe dreams. This is God’s plan for us, for you and me to have the fullest human spiritual life possible!
I recently had the honor of interviewing my friend and mentor Becca Stevens, priest and founder of Thistle Farms, a spiritual beacon for me. On my Soulful 7 Conversations podcast, we discussed her new book, Practically Divine. If you are in need of a nudge of hope, I invite you to listen to it over the holidays. Becca reminds us that we are “practically divine,” composed of flesh, bone and divine spirit. Becca grew up hearing her mom say, “you are dirt and angel.” I love that—we are dirt and angel.
Becca and I agree that God is in the holy thick of creation, nothing escapes God’s attention or love. In the muck, the dirt, God creates moments where heaven breaks through for us. Becca said, “the path of faith is full of sacred crumbs that are enough to keep us moving in the right direction.” No one wants you or me to make it “home” more than God.
I wish I could tell you the magi path of faith is straight and easy. That you won’t get lost, or discouraged, or fall in despair. Daring to take a new path does not preclude dark nights of the soul, disappointments that wound the heart, seasons when your faith feels lukewarm and far from helpful. It also doesn’t guarantee that your prayers will be answered as you would like. You are still going to have to navigate the increasing secularity of our culture, the political chasms, stubborn pandemics, inevitable aging, the fragility of your body and the encroachment of technology and social media.
God built you and me to persevere. We are wired to rise. If you are not feeling your superpowers, call out to God and keep calling out. Look to your right and to your left for help. Your vulnerability will unveil incredible courage and you will find your way. Which one of us will set the record for how many times we can resurrect in one lifetime?
What I can promise you is that if you commit to the spiritual journey, you can expect to be surprised by grace, experience remarkable mercy and healing, even a miracle along the way. Your light will draw other people of light to you.
Most important, a heart oriented in the direction of God guarantees the journey will be sacred. The cynic is not on the Magi path of faith. Only the hopeful travel that way.
Before you leave today, I want you to check your invisible pack. What do you need to let go of? What secret heaviness is slowing your spiritual gait? We all have something to shed; some grief, some fear, some resentment, some doubt, some selfishness, some hurt, that is keeping us from reaching our destination. Name it. Let it go or make peace with it, so God has room to do something new and redemptive in your life.
I was taking an afternoon walk with my daughter last summer in France. We came across an older gentleman in his late eighty’s, bent over, one hand clutching a cane, the other planting a row of olive shoots no taller than the length of his hand. I knew and he surely knew that he would not live to see the fruits of his efforts. It takes decades or more to establish an olive grove that produces oil. But that didn’t stop him! Are we leaving a legacy of hope?
So important to the magi path of faith, is a willingness to sow hope wherever we go. God started the conversation, but He needs us to share it. If you are sure in your soul depths that God is with you and that all shall eventually be well as God promises, then you must carry the banner of hope high on the journey, so others beside and behind you see it. Give them a reason to keep stepping forward. I am still trudging on the path of faith, 47 Christmases later, not from my own doing, but because people like David, my mom, Clay, Becca, you, have encouraged me when I needed help finding my grounding and remembering God gave me wings. The Magi path of faith is nothing, if you are not on it with me, and I with you. I am saved when you are saved.
In closing I share one of my very favorite poems by Emily Dickinson entitled, Dwell in Possibility. She believed that if your heart was oriented to God, anything was possible. The final line of the poem is a rallying call.
“For our occupation—This—
The spreading wide our Narrow Hands
To gather Paradise”
Merry, merry Christmas! I am signing off to spend time with my family! See you in January!