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Do You See What I See? (the Wednesday post) January 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[“Merry Little Christmas, Epiphany, Theophany, Three Kings Day, & Twelfth Day of Christmas (for some)!”]

 

[You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
A child, a child, shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold, oh yeah, oh”

 

– 2nd verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

 

It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by and you didn’t think how can “they” not see the truth that’s right in front of them? It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by where you didn’t think, “What don’t they understand [what I understand]?”

Funny thing is, no matter who you are and what you believe – let alone why you believe it – you may have found yourself think or even questioning what has motivated people to do the things they are doing (or not doing) over the last few months (or years); which, of course, means that almost everyone is thinking this (or saying this) about everyone else. It seems really twisted, because it is; it’s all twisted up in avidyā (“ignorance”).

In Indian philosophies, like Yoga, suffering – the same suffering that has us asking what someone else was thinking when they did the thing they did – is caused afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns (kleśāh). The primary one being avidyā (ignorance), which is defined in The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali as not understanding the true nature of things. For example, believing short-lived objects are eternal; believing something impure is pure; and believing something that causes suffering brings happiness are classic examples of avidyā. (YS 2.5) This basic level of ignorance becomes the bedrock for four additional forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thinking, all of which lead to more suffering. (YS 2.3 – 2.9, 2.12 – 2.14) After putting the way people think into context (and also explaining about functional thought patterns), Patanjali indicates that everything in the known or sensed world has two-fold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. (YS 2.18) In other words, everything we sense, think, and/or in any way experience can serve the purpose of changing the way we understand the nature of things and, therefore, change the way we think. If we have a better understanding of the world, we can have less suffering. (YS 2.16 – 2.17)

Knowing this, a practitioner might feel ready to move forward in their practice or even impatient to get to the time and place where they have less suffering – especially after the last few months or years. One might even wonder why the basic knowledge is not enough to change the world. Well, turns out there is a sūtra for that…

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind [brain] shows it.”

The brain (intellect) and mind-body are powerful. So powerful in fact, that they will store information (for us) without us knowing the information is there and/or without us consciously paying attention to the information. If and when our mind decides something is relevant and/or we are ready to understand it, the information moves to our conscious awareness – sometimes as if it is the first time we have ever encountered said information. On the flip side, if we consciously (or even unconsciously) deny the relevancy of information – and/or don’t have the connecting information that puts everything into context – the information gets dismissed.

Don’t get me wrong, the truth can be right in front of our nose (like the tape that was on my glasses for the last few weeks), but the brain filters it out of our conscious awareness. As a result, to us, it’s like the information does not exist. We just don’t see it – just like the tape that was sitting on the bridge of my nose. The difference here, between facts in the world and the tape, is that I put the tape on my glasses and consciously gave my brain permission to ignore it (with full awareness of the fact that the eyes can work like that). But, every now and again, it was like the tape would “magically” (re)appear; every once in a while, I just couldn’t ignore what was right in front of my face.

For the last few days of the “12 Days of Christmas,” the playlist started with an instrumental piece called “Story of My Life” and, as a joke, I would say at the beginning, “Not my life, but…someone’s life.” That someone being Jesus; and while the different parts of Jesus’ life story get told by Christian liturgy throughout the year, they get told in different ways (and sometimes at different times) depending on the tradition and/or denomination. It’s as if, 12 different writers wrote the same story, but emphasized different parts.

Of course, by using the number 12, I am oversimplifying reality and dismissing the fact that humans make bad witnesses. I am, also, mostly leaving out the fact that while Christians may have the corner market on the story of Jesus, they are not the only religious (or philosophical) traditions that tell the story.

Neither are they the only ones in the story…. But that’s another story for another day. Because today, is all about seeing the story through a Christian lens.

1. Chorus
They will all come forth out of Sheba,
bringing gold and incense
and proclaiming the price of the Lord.

 

2. Chorale
The kings came out of Sheba,
they brought gold, incense, myrrh along,
Hallelujah!”

 

– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

January 6th, is Epiphany, also known as Theophany (in some Eastern traditions) and Three Kings Day. As I mentioned yesterday, January 6th is almost always Epiphany, with the exception of some places in Columbia that observe this Feast Day on the second Monday of January (and countries that celebrate on the first Sunday in January). It’s also good to note that while since some Eastern Christian traditions use the Julian calendar, their January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” and the root word meaning “to appear.” “Theophany” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “The Day of the Lights.” In Christian traditions, it is a feast day to celebrate Jesus being revealed as Divine, God incarnate, and God’s gift to the world. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, which is why it is also known as “Three Kings Day.” In some Eastern traditions, the magi visit on the 25th and therefore the story of theophany focuses on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (when he turned water into wine and during the Wedding at Cana).

There are masses and feasts on this day, as well as caroling. There is even some highly elevated singing, as several composers have written pieces for the day. In fact, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote several pieces for the various days of Christmastide and at least two pieces for Ephiphany. One of those pieces, “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65, premiered today in 1724, to mark Bach’s first Christmas season as “Thomaskantor” (cantor at Saint Thomas) in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. I have heard that he composed the 7-movement Christmas cantata, with lyrics inspired by The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:6), in the first few days of the New Year (as the piece is dated 1724 and Saxony switched the Gregorian calendar in 1699).

“‘Its final cause,’ [Bach] wrote, ‘is none other than this, that it ministers solely to the honor of God and refreshment of the spirit, whereof, if one take not heed, it is no proper music, but devilish din and discord.’”

 

– quoted from God and Music by John Harrington Edwards (published 1903)

   

“3. Recitative B
What Isaiah foresaw there,
That happened at Bethlehem.
Here the wise men appear
at Jesus’ manger
and want to praise him as their king.
Gold, frankincense, myrrh are
the delicious gifts
With which they grace this baby Jesus in
Bethlehem in the stable.
My Jesus, when I think of my duty now,
I must also turn to your manger
and also be grateful:
For this day is a day of joy for me,
Since you, O prince of life
The light of the Gentiles….”

 

– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (2:1 – 12) is the only canonical New Testament gospel to tell the story of the “wise men” (as they are called in the King James Version). More modern versions of the text refer to them as “magi” and even “kings,” but traditionally they are only directly referred to as “kings” in a prophesy found in The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:1 – 6) and, perhaps indirectly, in The Book of Psalms (“Psalm 72: A Psalm for Solomon”) – both of which are in the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament. None of these cited texts reference a number, but most Western Christians consider them three (based on the gifts) … while some Eastern Christians consider them 12. Still others focus on the gift bearers as neither magi nor kings, but of shepherds.

It is also interesting to note, if you will patiently think back with me, that the “12 Days of Christmas” song does not mention magicians or scholars, but definitely mentions drummers. Classically, there are “12 drummer’s drumming” – which, according to the catechism myth represents the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed. Sometimes, however, there are 9 or 10 or 11, which means they could also symbolize the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; the Ten Commandments; or the eleven “faithful” apostles (respectively). I also find it interesting, and thematically beautiful, that the little drummer boy not only sees himself in the baby Jesus, but also brings the same gift: his presence.

“But what do I bring, you King of Heaven?
If my heart is not too little for you, then
accept it graciously,
Because I cannot bring anything noble.”

 

– quoted from the 3rd movement (Recitative B), of “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

Some people wait until Epiphany or Theophany to add the Three Kings to their Nativity Scene – even though some cultures mark the change from Christmastide to Epiphanytide by taking their Christmas decorations down on the 7th. Some people have their King Cake or Twelfth Night Cake on this date, hoping to find the coin or the tiny baby Jesus figurine that indicates they will be extra blessed or lucky/fortunate in the year ahead. In some cultures, the person who finds the coin or baby is responsible for supplying the next year’s cake (which some people love and others think is not so lucky).

For those people who focus on Jesus’ baptism as a moment of revelation, January 6th is a day to gather by the water. Priest, pastor, or preacher led processions will make their way through the town or city until they reach the water. After blessing the water, the priest, pastor, or preacher will throw a cross into the water and some people will engage in a little “winter swimming.” In this case, the person who finds the cross is considered extra blessed. Additionally, some people will choose this date to be baptized, as it is a symbol of how they are changed.

“We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”

 

– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 6, January 2018)

For the faithful, a sermon or homily is a big part of Epiphany or Theophany. This is especially true in the Roman Catholic tradition. Pope Francis has (in my humble opinion) a definite knack for weaving the narrative of the story into present day application.  In 2018, his homily encouraged people to be “imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.” The modern day gifts that the pontiff mentioned were gifts of the self: “care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and cannot be lacking the lives of Christians.” He also spoke in terms of taking a risk and the importance of sometimes following what might not always seem to be brightest thing on the horizon.

In thinking about Epiphany, in a religious context, I often think about epiphany in the context of innovative or scientific discovery. For someone to have an ah-ha, light bulb, or eureka moment – for someone to have an epiphany – they have to be prepared. They have to know what they are seeing or hearing. They have to know the importance of what’s growing on a culture plate when they get back from holiday; otherwise they throw it away. They have to understand that the light touch that wakes them from a deep sleep is the touch of an angel and not the touch of their sleep-mate or cattle. Whether it is in religion or science or humanity, one must have faith in order to take a risk.

Last year was very different than 2017 and this year, again, Pope Francis reflected the times – and he spoke, in some ways, very much along my way of thinking: that one must be prepared. In speaking of the magi, he said, “Worshiping the Lord is not easy; it does not just happen. It requires a certain spiritual maturity and is the fruit of an at times lengthy interior journey.” He talked about the importance of prayer and, again, the importance of looking up – lifting up one’s eyes in order to “‘see’ beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive.” Basically, he offered three steps in the form of three phrases, from The Liturgy of the Word, for a deeper relationship with God: “to lift up our eyes,” “to set out on a journey,” and “to see.”

Of course, we can only see, what we are prepared to see – which is the whole purpose of the journey, which we can only take when we look up (and around) and get curious.

“And it concludes by saying that at the time, ‘the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness’ (Lk 3:2). To none of the magnates, it to but to a man who had withdrawn to the desert. Here is the surprise: God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known.

 

When we listen to that list of distinguished personages, we might be tempted to turn the spotlight on them…. But God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God ‘proposes’ himself; he does not ‘impose’ himself. He illumines; he does not blind. It is always a very tempting to confuse God’s light with the lights of the world. How many times have we pursued the seductive lights of power and celebrity, convinced that we are rendering good service to the Gospel! But by doing so, have we not turned the spotlight on the wrong place, because God was not there. His kindly light shines forth in humble love. How many times too, have we, as a Church, attempted to shine with our own light! Yet we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light, which is the Lord. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5). Him, not us.”

 

– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 6, January 2019)**

 

**NOTE: During Wednesday’s ZOOM classes I dated the last quote from Pope Francis (it is also mis-dated on the Vatican’s website. I think 2019 is correct, but I could still be mistaken. My apologies for any confusion.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(Note: The playlists are slightly different for the before/after practice music. Also, I added Whitney Houston’s version of the song that was popping up in my head Wednesday morning.)

 

 

### SEEING IS BELIEVING, BUT ONLY WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SEEING ###