Our journey in Epiphany has covered the visitation of the Magi, the emergence of Jesus out of silence and anonymity into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist, to the unique light that Jesus brought to his world and time, leaving us to ask the question, What is the light that we bring to our world and time? For what is Epiphany if it is not about light? The dawning of light amidst the darkness. The light of compassion, of wellness, of kindness and justice, of care for the sick, the poor, the ones pushed to the margins by cultural dominance and preference.
From the beginning of Epiphany I have wanted to talk about circles. Circles of relationship – support – encouragement – and exhortation. Our world and time boasts of global connection and community through the internet, but all are in agreement we suffer from a lack of human community. The more that grows available through technology, the less we cultivate in reality. Creation, human kind included, need to live in circles – circles of family, friendship, support, protection, companionship, community that work together for the benefit of one another and the blessing of the world in which they live.
If you have read the gospel story, then you know that the life of Jesus was all about living in a circle. In the gospel of Luke, which is written to reflect historical accuracy, Jesus emerges out of the quiet life of Galilee into the waters where John is baptizing. He is then compelled to go out into the desert to experience 40 days and nights of solitude and vision for his life. He returns from the 40 days of solitude and according to all three synoptic gospels, goes back to his home and begins a public ministry.
Based upon the story in Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry alone. He goes to the synagogue in Nazareth where he proclaims a provocative interpretation from the Prophet Isaiah, creates such a negative impression he is almost pushed off a cliff by an angry mob. He survives that encounter, moves from a teaching ministry to a healing ministry, where he manages to gain both fans and adversaries. But early into his public ministry Jesus realizes he cannot do this life without a circle. So he begins to call persons who he perceives will share his life, and with whom he can share in their life.
I was raised in a big Irish catholic family. There were 8 of us who lived at 1417 El Rancho Drive, and my earliest memories were all about big family life. Dinners together, going to baseball games, swim matches, and holidays. I was the youngest, and as my life evolved from childhood to adolescents, I could plot on a graph the decline of my family circle. As the circle of my family eroded, my sense of isolation and loneliness grew.
By the time I was fifteen, the circle of eight had pretty much diminished to a circle of 2. Though all of my family members were alive, the circle of family had been broken. As any of us reflect upon life, we could all share a similar story. The emergence and diminishment of the circles we share. But just because a circle is ebbing, we are not restrained to build new circles of life and community. In fact, in a round world, it is necessary. There are always new lives, new needs, changing environments that bring the fall and rise of circles in our life.
At 18, I emerged from the broken circle that was my family and high school friends into the circle of a church community. Now I was raised in an Irish Catholic Church, but I never knew that church as a circle of community. It was a place we belonged and we attended, but at least I did not experience the church as circle. Perhaps it was the estrangement and brokenness of my own family life that kept us marginalized from parish life. For whatever reason, I was 18 years old when I experienced a sense of community in a church. And I took to it like a duck takes to water.
A spiritual awakening coincided with a social awareness, that family was not the only family we had. We have a sacred family between humankind and all other parts of creation. We are not here, alone. We are here, together. We are not a dot on a board, a segment of a line, but we are part of a body, a sacred, celestial, universal body. And our life is to be lived in micro – how the whole universe exists in macro – infinitely and eternally coexisting – co-creating, co-evolving, co-habitating –in mutual interdependence and rhythmical balance with all other.
Life, in its smallest and remote manifestation to its infinitely unmeasurable reality, is lived in a circle – a web of mutual care, love, acceptance, and belonging. Jesus taught this. The Buddha taught this. Mohammed teaches this. The Torah teaches this. All the sacred and scientific traditions teach that humankind was not intended to live alone. We live in circle – having all things in common – mutually committed to the sharing of resources, spending much time together, breaking bread together, sharing glad and generous hearts together, praising the Divine Spirit in all things together, and working for the goodwill of all. In case you do not recognize those words, it was the description of the earliest church in Jerusalem recorded in the second chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. So… for the remainder of Epiphany I wish to talk about circles. The circles we share – and perhaps the circles we lack.
Last week I concluded with the question, what is the unique light you bring or wish to bring to this time and your world? Keep asking yourself that question, and add a second question to it. What is or are the circles in my life?