There is a story told in Holland, which is perhaps more myth than truth, that goes like this:
“Once upon a time there was an old church. For many years, when entering the church, everyone stopped and bowed in the direction of a whitewashed wall. No one knew exactly why this was done, but they had been doing it for so long that they didn’t question it either.
One day, the parish priest decided to renovate the church. Among other things, he had the paint and whitewash removed from the old walls. While doing so, they discovered the traces of a painting at the bottom of the wall before which the people were bowing. They carefully removed the paint so as not to damage what was underneath. Gradually, a beautiful image of Christ, several centuries old, appeared. No one was old enough to have seen it before. It had been hidden by whitewash for at least a century. Yet all had reclined before it, not knowing why, but feeling that there was good reason for reverence”.
In this story we find a lesson for the feast of the Magi. Our culture celebrates this feast with inordinate exuberance, perhaps because it is so commercial. Many may be post-Christian in their beliefs, attitudes, ethics and politics, but they still celebrate the feast. There may not be much faith, but there is a deep-rooted expression of a tradition. But, as they say in Holland, it’s better than not leaning against a wall. There is something underneath this popular and rampant custom.
Our task is not to demonise anything, but to help remove the whitewash from the wall, restore the paint underneath it and tell the story of who painted it and why. The best way to celebrate Epiphany, without criticising how others do it, is to live better the mystery it represents: to discover stars in our darkness, to set out, to ask where Jesus is and when we find him on Mary’s lap to be astonished like Thomas (“My Lord and my God…”) and to offer him the best of ourselves like Zacchaeus (“Look, half of my goods I give to the poor…”). May our joy exceed that of the commercial world!
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Inbal Malca)