Restore us to wholeness, O Healer, like newborn babes who have never strayed from you. Psalm 126 (Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill)
I have always been intrigued by the Christmas story of the Wise Men, as described in the Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-12. As someone who has devoted my life to the spiritual search, I am drawn to these seekers of wisdom who made an arduous journey, following the light of a Star to a destination unknown to them, where they found a small babe lying in a manger. Within the profound depths of the Christmas Mystery I find that the Wise Men’s journey is one of the endless mysteries that continues to reveal deeper truths each year. Like a Zen koan, the meaning of their search eludes my rational mind: For after a lifetime of devoted study had already made them masters of wisdom, what were they still seeking? And what did they actually find that so deeply satisfied their need when they saw the baby Jesus?
As I ponder these questions, I enter the story and visualize myself on the journey with the Wise Men as I hold the question in my heart, “What am I seeking?”
We ride for many long, tiring days through a rugged landscape, guided only by the Star of Wisdom that shines brightly in the sky. Finally, in the darkest night, the Star stops over a small, simple stable; we are very surprised but filled with joy, knowing that we have found that which we have sought for so long. We enter the stable to a very realistic scene of animal smells, noises, a tired but beaming mother, and a father who is anxiously shouldering the responsibilities of a new baby. It is ordinary life, set in that dark time.
My attention is immediately drawn to the Christ-child that lies in the manger, and I become aware of a radiant golden light permeating the darkness and a faint harmony of angelic music. Then I hear the words:
This is where your journey ends – looking into the eyes of a babe.
A period of silence to absorb the words.
Then I hear:
It is not the seeking – it is the remembering.
I kneel by the manger and look into the baby’s eyes. He is lying peacefully, his dark round eyes wide open, filled with a wisdom that transcends this earthly realm. An infinite, eternal, spiritual knowing shines through his eyes. As I continue to look into their fathomless depths I see deeper and deeper, black tunnels open up into outer space, and I see immense vistas, exploding stars, swirling galaxies, dark space – the glimpse of a consciousness that is ancient and vast. I cannot express in words the awe that I am experiencing, but know that we are somehow all of this and I realize how much our perspective is limited by the finitude and constrictions of human life. As I continue to look into the deep pools of the Christ-child’s eyes – seeing into the depths of dark, impenetrable wisdom – I have a sense of the cosmic grandeur, the most infinitesimal particle, the bird singing outside my window, my own self, people throughout the world, all as One Reality – all caught up in the wholeness. I know that this is truly where my journey ends.
As I reflect upon this experience, I realize that the babe’s inward vision is the consciousness of the Cosmic Christ – the life and light at the center of all creation, the divine I-Am in the heart of all. I know that this cosmic consciousness is the foundation of all consciousness. We all share in this unitive consciousness, which we unconsciously experience as babies, but that dims or even seems to disappear as we grow up. But this remains as our “original face,” our primordial wholeness. The gift of life that the Christ-child brings to us is not outer knowledge, but an energetic transmission that opens our minds and hearts so that we may see the Unity that he does. This is where our spiritual seeking ends, as we remember our original wholeness.
Following this meditation I read an illuminating essay by Bill Redfield, “Christophany to Deepen Our Understanding of Incarnation”* that provided me with important insights into my visualization experience. Redfield points out that there are basically two general ways to know Jesus. The first is the method of conventional Christianity that seeks to know Jesus “from the outside, as an object of faith, adoration, or doctrine.” The second is the approach that Raimon Panikkar calls Christophany: “rather than subject-to-object… this knowing is subject-to-subject… inner knowing through the disciplined and subtle exploration of our own inner landscape. Where you find Christ is correlative with your deepest and most authentic self…”
It seems to me that the journey of the Wise Men exemplifies these two ways of knowing. All of their studies and profound learning had focused on searching for the divine outside themselves, so their journey to seek the Christ-child began in a search for Wisdom as an object to be known. But when they arrived at the completion of their journey and saw the babe lying in the manger, they experienced a profound shift in consciousness through their personal encounter with Wisdom. This dramatic transformation was due to the Christophanic experience of knowing Jesus “subject-to-subject” and finding the divine as their own deepest self. The Wise Men represent all the wise men and women, the seekers in all traditions, who make the inner journey to the indwelling divine Presence that the Christian tradition calls the “Christ.”
Redfield says, “By this route we are able to encounter Jesus’ own cosmovision, through a dynamism that Panikkar calls interabiding…” I can imagine the Wise Men, in their rapt contemplation of the face of the Christ-child, experiencing within themselves the penetration of his divine nature. This opened their inner eyes to his cosmovision – grounded in unitive consciousness – that was the fulfillment of their lengthy and arduous quest for Wisdom, now known to be an inner rather than an outer experience. In this way the Wise Men fulfilled the universal spiritual quest according to the Gospel of Thomas:
Come to know the One in the presence before you, and everything hidden from you will be revealed. (Logion 5)
Cynthia Avens Epiphany 2020
*”Christophany to Deepen Our Understanding of Incarnation: Advent 2018,” williamredfield.com
Christophany: The Fullness of Man by Raimon Panikkar
Gospel of Thomas translation by Lynn Baumann