Category Archives: Religion

Epiphany, 2017

The astonishing reliquary of the three kings at Cologne cathedral is worth the journey.

Shrine of the Three Kings

Today is the day the wise men greeted the infant Christ.
The story of three wise men who set aside their power and pomp to accept the simplicity of the infant Christ’s new promise never fails to move me.

“For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

—From Evelyn Waugh’s Helena. Quoted by Rowan Williams in his first Christmas Day meditation as Archbishop of Canterbury, 2002.

Waugh understood that complicated, clever minds have a hard time finding their way to the God of love, who must be approached as a child. And when they do, they find a welcome they could never have anticipated.

We forget, in the familiarity of the story, that the Epiphany is about a shocking, unexpected meeting.

The wise men knew that a new king had been born. They knew his fate included death, and brought bitter myrrh for his embalming.

But they were not prepared for what they found.

The wise men brought gifts to suit a king who would be clothed in wealth and earthly glory.

Whose royal corpse would need their help to keep it preserved.

They met Christ.

He lay in a feeding trough for animals, wrapped in a simple swaddling cloth, poor and vulnerable.

They knelt in wonder.

Here’s an old poem I wrote about that strange meeting.

Epiphany

This one was backwards to begin with.

A breech birth, signifying greatness and

Disdain towards it. A star pointing

Its horoscope ahead of the birth.

Herod promises to fund our research.

He seemed kind, though peer review

Has since indicated doubt.

It was all strange. If I had not been there,

I would have said it was too perfect:

The lean-to so compendious,

As if everything had been planned that way.

I tell you, I am used to teasing futures out

Reluctantly, with calipers and logarithmic tables,

But here, attending a family for whom

‘Expecting’ seems a cruel joke,

It all coheres: the herdsmen kneeling

By the beasts, the mother beached

The other side of tears, a father

Watching, slightly sidelined by events.

The drift of laughter from the bar —

Nothing here but the animals, wood,

A touch of blood. The child is wearing

His little shroud of martyr-cloth,

His white birthswathe binding his fate,

In silence, stuck in a coffin-trough

(The cattle had to be shooed off).

He was ready for our gifts.

As if born knowing how a myth

Behaves, he laughed at only one.

Gold dazzled him, he turned away.

The incense stung his nose to run.

Only the sobriety of myrrh, its clay

Box cracking slightly at the base,

Brought a chuckle so out of place

It silenced all us three.

We saw a torment borne with grace,

But had not anticipated glee.

MS, 2005

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Today’s Quote, 6 January 2017

If the Magi had come in search of an earthly King, they would have been disconcerted at finding that they had taken the trouble to come such a long way for nothing. Consequently they would have neither adored nor offered gifts. But since they sought a heavenly King, though they found in Him no signs of royal pre-eminence, yet, content with the testimony of the star alone, they adored: for they saw a man, and they acknowledged a God.

—St. John Chrysostom

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Today’s Quote, 25 December 2016

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

– Luke, 19.10

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Why commercialism captures the true spirit of Christmas

It’s a shame all the shopping has to spoil the true meaning of Christmas. Or so we get told at this time of year, usually by the same prophets of good cheer who want us to celebrate the season by donning hair shirts and cutting back on the booze. Continue reading

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Exploring the Economics of God

What has Chicago got to do with Jerusalem? Economics and religion can seem an unlikely match. Yet these very different fields of human knowledge, each questing after its own set of slippery certainties, can inform one another. Continue reading

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The Vatican’s imperial economic plan is naive

THE Vatican waded into the debate over the financial crisis this week, when the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released a paper titled Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority. Despite some interesting analysis, as Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute has pointed out, on the problems caused by fiat currencies, the papacy’s note shows a curious enthusiasm for the idea of a global financial body to keep past excesses in check. At times, it is a vision of such naive optimism as to be almost heartbreaking. Who, in the midst of the ineffectual, self-serving, horse-trading muddle of the Eurozone’s political wrangling, can hear without incredulity the announcement that “the Authority shall have the specific purpose of the common good, and will have to work and not be structured as an additional lever of power of the powerful over the weak.” Continue reading

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