By THE REV. JASON A. BURNS
Deacon, St. Philips Episcopal Church, Easthampton
Published: 1/7/2022 4:39:10 PM
Modified: 1/7/2022 4:38:29 PM
As I write this, I can see my family’s Christmas tree out of the corner of my eye and am reminded that I have not watered it yet today and that if I keep ignoring it, it is going to die. The same is true of our spiritual life. If we don’t tend to it, our relationship to God will wither and we will eventually die without truly knowing the joy we can experience from that relationship.
Jan. 6 marked the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Epiphany, which is the season during which Jesus is made manifest to the gentiles. The specific occasion is marked by the arrival of the Magi, who traveled a long, long way, by the light of the star of Bethlehem, simply to lay their eyes on Jesus. The Magi clearly knew something important was afoot, but only because they had spent their lives priming themselves for the occasion. So, when a strange star appeared in the sky, they were curious enough to follow it. Are we curious enough to follow a strange light? We seem to have no issue diving down the social media rabbit hole, but one could most certainly argue that the rabbit hole is different, it provides instant satisfaction in the form of happiness or even anger, depending on day or even the moment.
The use of light to represent God is, of course, a metaphor we use to convey the joy one can experience through a relationship with God. According to the Gospel of John, the life of Jesus is the light in the darkness. What he means by this is that the life and teachings of Jesus, if followed, can and will transform our lives and lead to joy.
Of course, experiencing that joy is not as easy as “liking” a meme on the internet, and it does not provide instant gratification, which our culture has shifted toward. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s just different. It is also contrary to most faith traditions, which all promote life-changing messages, but the change comes slowly, and compared to today’s speed of information, spiritual enlightenment moves at glacial speeds. Yet, the invitation remains to follow the unfamiliar light and see what happens.
Dare I say that most people claim a sense of spirituality, but not a religion? I guess I do dare to say it, since I just did. I completely understand the idea that someone may feel drawn to spirituality but get little out of attaching themselves to a religious institution. However, I would also argue that just claiming to be spiritual does not make it so. Sensing the spiritual is not the same as engaging with it.
While we do not need to participate in an institution, we do need to cultivate the relationship, or it will hold no meaning and the joy that is possible will never materialize. If we don’t tend to and water the tree of spirituality, it will die. The light that is the life of Jesus is an invitation to all people to be in a relationship with God, and it takes many forms; these forms are signs that only the individual can perceive. However, to recognize them we need to hone our skills, like the Magi, so that when the signs appear, we are prepared to recognize and follow them, wherever they may lead.
The Rev. Jason A. Burns is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, lives in Greenfield, and currently serves at St. Philip’s in Easthampton. As an ordained order, deacons in the Episcopal church vow to live a life of service in the community under the direction of their bishop.