Matthew 2: 1 – 12 Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
Today we begin a new sermon series entitled, “Mystic Masters,” as we welcome the Magi. The Magi, I believe, are truly mystics. What is a mystic? A mystic seeks union with the Divine. Just as every river is winding its way to the sea so every soul is returning to a glorious reunion with our source, the Creator. Jesus himself was a mystic for he declared, “The Father and I are One.”
The word “epiphany” simply means “shining forth.” Divine light shines forth from this Child, Jesus. But it should not so much be understood as the appearance of God as the transparence of God. The divine light that shines in the Child is not a foreign light to the earth. It is the light at the heart of all life. Jesus declares, “You are the light of the world.” The story of the mystic Magi is a story about the Light at the heart of everything, the Light at the heart of you, the Light at the heart of me. Sometimes that light is deeply hidden under confusion, anxiety, despair, a bushel but it is waiting to come forth anew.
A few weeks ago, I invited you to bring your nativity sets. If you remember, we created our own nativity scene during Children’s Circle. I asked the children, “Who is a part of our nativity scenes?” Joseph, Mary, the Shepherds, an Angel, and then came 6-year-old Bea’s answer as she waived her hand high in the air. “Yes, Bea?” The Wise Queens! We laughed and even applauded her answer. Today’s sermon is inspired by Bea. Tradition holds that the names of the wise men are Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. But for today, I would like us to embrace the idea of three wise queens and imagine that these mystic masters who come to pay homage to the Divine Light are St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and Rabia of Persia.
For St. Teresa, ever soul is designed as a kind of queendom – a magnificent “interior castle” – with softly rounded rooms leading ever inward toward a luminous center of Love. Teresa was born in Avila in 1515. She grew up in Spain during the insanity of the Inquisitions, in which the church, along with other grievous deeds, forced mass conversions of Jews to Christianity. Conversos as they were called. Her father had grown up Jewish and the whole family was dragged from their house and paraded through the streets of Toledo for seven Fridays in a row, forced to kneel at every Catholic shrine in the city while church officials denounced them, spat at them and hurled anti-Semitic curses. Needless to say, in the face of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Teresa grew up with an ambivalent relationship with the church. She loved Christ but was wary of Christianity.
Her mother had died when she was only 12. By the age of 16, Teresa was getting in so much trouble that her father sent her away to a convent to be “educated” (i.e. controlled). In her writings, Teresa never specifies what transgression she committed. Did she lose her virginity? Did she take an unchaperoned walk in the garden with a boy? Was she caught kissing a girl? We don’t know – she was simply banished to the nunnery. In the years to come, she fell in love with contemplative life, which her father had not anticipated. It is said that she occasionally levitated in the convent chapel during Mass. Outwardly, she was dramatic, emotional, extroverted. But her inner life was bathed in the sweet peace of companionship with the Holy.
St. Teresa writes of her playfulness with the Holy.
How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom?
I don’t think God tickled them yet.
Beloved – hurry.
Likewise, she writes,
Just these two words God spoke changed my life, ‘Enjoy Me.’
What a burden I thought I was to carry – a crucifix, as did He.
But laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky.
After a night of prayer, my life was changed when God sang, “Enjoy Me.”
Wise Queen Teresa brings the gift of playfulness to the Christ Child.
And what about the second wise queen, St. Catherine of Siena? Catherine was one of 20 children born to parents who were devout Catholics. She was born in Italy. It was a time of class feuds and religious wars as well as the Black plague. At the age of 6, Catherine looked up above the church and saw in the sunset Jesus and three of his apostles. Jesus smiled at her and raised his hand in a blessing. Catherine became happy beyond any delight she had ever known. She was transformed by the experience. At age seven, her longing to wed God became so intense she left home alone to find a cave in the forest and brought with her only a loaf of bread. She later became a Dominican nun. Like Jesus, she died at 33. Although she thought of herself as uneducated, in 1970 Pope Paul VI proclaimed her a “Doctor of the Church.” She writes these words:
I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.
The cheeks of the sun were pale before God,
And the earth acted as a shy girl, like me.
Divine light entered my heart
God’s love did never fully wane.
I have seen what you want; it is there,
A Beloved of infinite tenderness.
Speaking of the tenderness of the Holy, she writes this:
God’s heart is more gentle than the Virgin Mary’s first kiss upon the Christ Child.
In a poem entitled, Consecrated,” she writes
All has been consecrated.
The creatures in the forest know this, the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know as does the heart full of love.
Strange a priest would rob us of this knowledge and them empower himself with the ability
To make holy what already was.
I give thanks for Wise Queen Catherine who brings to the Christ Child the gift of tenderness.
And now for wise queen #3, Rabia of Persia. Who is Rabia? Rabia is without doubt the most popular and influential female Islamic saint and a central figure in the Sufi tradition. She perhaps more than any other poet influenced the writings of Rumi. There are many stories around her life. One story speaks of how she became separated from her parents – perhaps they died and while wandering homeless was literally stolen and sold into slavery. A famous brothel bought her, and she was forced to work in the brothel. At the age of 50, she was given her freedom, most likely bought for her by a rich patron.
In that vain she writes this,
One day He did not leave after kissing me. (He, I imagine, means the Divine.)
And this, I was once a sleeping ocean in a dream became jealous of a pond.
Until we know that God lies in us and we can see God there, a great poverty we suffer.
And this poem which makes me laugh,
Thus, going to bed one night
I knew a thief would be breaking in at 3 A.M.,
So, I wrote a note and put it on my door that said, “Could you wait till 4?”
For the passion in prayers usually starts to wane by then.
I love it! While the thief sought the riches of the earth, Rabia sought the riches of the Divine and she didn’t want anything to disturb that.
And finally, this,
In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel.
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist,
Where ecstasy gets poured into itself and becomes lost.
In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
That dissolve, that dissolve in God.
I give thanks for Wise Queen #3, Rabia of Persia, who brings to the Christ Child the gift of elated bliss.
The Wise Men brought the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The joke goes – that after the wise men left, the wise women showed up and brought practical gifts – fresh diapers, casseroles for a week, and an in-home nanny. Perhaps, these three wise queens would have done just that – even so, I give thanks for the gifts of playfulness, tenderness, and elated bliss they share with the Divine. As these wise women bring forth their gifts may we bring ours too. Amen.
*Poems and some of the biographical information comes from Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems From God, 2002.