And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.matthew 2:12 (Epiphany of the lord)
When I was 14, my family took a driving vacation through North Carolina. Every morning we filled the car up at an Esso station, and we picked up maps. At the end of the day, when we checked into our motel, my dad would have my brother and me draw the route we had taken so far. We spread the maps across the floor and used the black felt tip pens Dad brought home from his office. The next day, we would get new maps, and trace the entire route we had taken, without looking back at the previous day’s map. By the end of the trip, I understood how a map works and how to plot a route to get somewhere, anywhere. I took that skill with me whenever I visited or moved to a new place, studying and considering where I needed to go and what I wanted to see.
My dad never liked to go the same way twice, and he wanted to be sure my brother and I were equipped to find our way home, wherever we went, by another road.
Now I recognize that the rise of GPS has influenced me to type my destination in and drive with the direction of the Google Maps voice. It took me much longer to learn my way around South Central Pennsylvania after moving here in 2013 than it did to learn Portland, Maine, after my last big move in 1987.
If we only follow an automated lead from one point to another point – a point we have determined ourselves – how can we be open to God’s direction?
It’s worth considering that the magi were well-prepared to respond to their heavenly messenger and find a different route because they knew how to read the sky the way I know how to read a map. When told to go a different way, these learned wise ones knew how to resource themselves.
I think the spiritual life is much the same. We don’t need to know everything all at once, but faith practices are the spiritual navigation techniques that prepare us for the times when God indicates we need to do something different. Our gospel lesson this week tells the story of the capital “E” Epiphany, the moment when Christ is manifested to the Gentiles. Small “e” epiphanies can come to us at any time, usually when we do not expect them, but only when we are ready. Realizations are seldom based in nothing. They spring from a sense developed over time, grow out of practices in which we persist, root themselves in the work we have already done.
They come because we have learned how to unfold the map, recognize the available routes, and let God lead the way.
Do you want reflections and images like this one in your inbox? Subscribe to Reflectionary, my Monday morning email for Revised Common Lectionary preachers. All new subscribers between now and January 15, 2020, will be entered in a drawing for a copy of my book, Denial is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith).