Friday, January 6, 2017



I'm not in the mood to sympathize with the three Magi(c) Kings about their journey, at least not about the weather. T. S. Eliot forced “a cold coming we had of it” into their mouths, but, truth be told, he swiped that from a sermon preached by Lancelot Andrewes before King James on Christmas Day 1622. At least, Andrewes had the decency to put it in the third person: "a cold coming they had of it." 

But, really, how cold could it have been, unless the three kings were coming from Kazakhstan or somewhere? Check the map (I did). Furthermore, it’s colder here this Epiphany in Indiana than it ever was there. Heck, it’s colder in Atlanta and Alabama. I know. I mean, I saw a picture of a friend from Alabama wearing a scarf today, and you don’t really get that a lot down there in my experience. I got chased out of Texas for wearing scarves, so you can trust me. Well, trust me about it being cold. Maybe not much else. 

Anyway, or anyways as Jennifer Lynne Ricke would say, this is it. We have made it through Advent and Christmas. Unless you are really liturgical (why you lookin' at me?) and then you get to celebrate Epiphany (which is at least Christmas-y) for another four weeks. But I'm not planning on boring you with meditations for every day of the Epiphany season, although there is no good reason I shouldn't just send you a little liturgical "poke" every once in a while is there? Seriously, I promise that I have never sent anyone a poke. 

Thank you to my readers who have done parts of this journey with me. I apologize (not really) for being so "contra" everything, including my own ideas, but that's the way this little thing called interpreting reality works for me. Today we celebrate the coming, more specifically, the arrival of the three kings or the three wise men or, as I like to call them, the three magi(c) men who finally got their "epiphany," their revelation. 

We always tend to think of epiphany as something that we "have" or "experience" (as in, whoa Missy, I had an epiphany last night on those pain killers--ask my sister about this one) but, in another way, it's something we are given. It is a manifestation. Something or someone that in and of itself is epiphanous (shiny, resplendent, superamazinglysignificant) which we are privileged to witness or experience. It is a manifestation. We can look or not look. And, in the normal way we use the word epiphany, that experience creates a new normal. We are changed. 

When you put it that way, and I should know because I just did, a lot of our epiphanies really aren't. Like almost all of the ones that Mr. Jerry Egan told me I was supposed to be having reading A Separate Peace back in first form English at St. Anthony's Catholic in San Antonio. I mean, it changed me and all, but only by convincing me that I never wanted to read another novel by John Knowles. 

And so on and so on and so on. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive": that's how Wordsworth described the epiphanic moment when, he thought, he was witnessing a change in human consciousness for the better, that is, the French Revolution. Turns out, it wasn't. There was a new normal, however. It was called the guillotine. 

We could all swap stories about our own many false epiphanies. But that might be boring. And I'm sure it would be depressing. 

But THE Epiphany, the manifestation of the Divine Power of Justice and Love in human form, the promise of divine connection not by national or racial privelege (the three magic dudes being not part of the people formerly known as  chosen), that was a gift. 

Of course, we always make a big deal of  the gifts given by the kings. So, today, or maybe just on Christmas, in many parts of the world we give gifts (at least to some degree in remembrance of their giving). The actual Epiphany, though, was a gift to them, and through them, to all the people of the world. 

Heavy stuff. Hard to believe? Sure. I won't argue with that. I'm just trying to suggest that it's a little more radical than we usually are led to think. Certainly had the powers that be, represented by Herod, pretty worried. More specifically, it located the center of power in Judea and even the universe (according to the legend) in a poor child of a poor laborer's family in what looked like a relatively insignificant place. 

Well, so be it. I'm on record as liking this story. And trying my best to live like I believe it, which I do, except when I don't

But forget the belief part for a moment. I want to talk about what it might look like to "live like I (you, we) believe it." The usual approach (and it's a good one) is to talk about gift giving and think about we can share gifts with others. Perhaps think about how we can use our gifts (especially all our myrrh?) for the sake of God and goodness. Good, good, All good. Or as my students say. Nice. Nice. 

Instead, though, I want to think for a just a moment (hahahahahahaha, you never think for just a moment, Jennifer Woodruff Tait just mumbled--speak up Jennifer, I can't hear you) about a life lived epiphanously. 

Because of the double connotations of the word (as I mentioned before), that can mean a couple of different things. It might mean to live our lives as a manifestation, a revelation, a shining light of somethingorotherness, to which others have the opportunity to witness (if they open their eyes, take off their blinders, tune their antennae, and aren't afraid to cry and moan). 

I love that idea. I more than love it. I lurve it (my annual not-quite-random Annie Hall reference). And I want to do that. And I want to be that kind of person. And yet, I can't imagine how one would consciously strive for that and be that without being a pompous religious ass. I am now manifesting. OK, shining my light of otherness ya'll, ready? 

Anyway(s), I still love the idea, but it's not immediately apparent to me how to go about it. And  I'm prone to skepticism about supposed methods I can follow to make it happen. Especially the ideas of spiritual directors who want to direct my spirit when I'm not sure I even have one or want to have one. Except for Tara Owens, she gets me.

That's alright, because there is still the second kind of epiphanous living, and, this one takes us back to the three . . . whatever they were. They may not have been kings, they may not have been cold, and they may not really have been magi(c). But they were, I think, living epiphanously. 

They saw. They witnessed. They experienced. Something happened. Their lives were knocked blessedly off-kilter because they opened their eyes, they went out of their way (so to speak) to see the wonder, the vision, the poor mother who was the queen of heaven, the child who was the prince of peace. 

We might say, well of course they saw it. No credit to them. If God reveals, puny mortals can't help but witness. If the Epiphany itself was the real gift, then they were just passive gift recipients. Well, I don't know where you were on Christmas morning, but I'm not even sure I know what a passive gift recipient is. And I'm sure I wouldn't like him if I did. 

I got a gift for Christmas that was a wonder in the good old sense of the word. It killed. I loved it. No, love is too weak a word for that. I lurved it. And, guess what? It didn't really cost that much. I know exactly how much it cost, because I went out and bought four of them for other people. But it was more than the elements of which it was elemented, or, perhaps more accurately,  the elements carried a charge of love (of grace?) making them superamazinglysignificant. 

On the day after Christmas, my long-lost cousin brought out an old New Testament from her bag. It was beat up, tattered, nothing special. Except that it had been carried by her father (whom she never met) when he was a soldier in Vietnam. This was as precious to her as a piece of the so-called true cross. We all felt it. No, I mean literally, we all reached out our hands and felt it. Touched it. Through her eyes, perhaps, saw beyond the gift of the Gideon's once upon a time to a much greater gift. 

I gently mocked Wordsworth earlier for being taken in (my interpretation anyway) by the big exciting buzz of the French Revolution. That's more an anomaly for him though.  In fact, I would probably propose William and his sister Dorothy as being two candidates for my all-epiphanous team. Eyes open, probing the given gift of the world, journeying up and down (OK, I'm sure it was cold some of the time) . . . for what? For the revelations, the manifestations, the showings (to use Julian of Norwich's word) of the resplendence. What Gerard Manley Hopkins called "God's Grandeur" by which the world is "charged." 

I work with someone who shines. Oh no, she doesn't know it or think so, and if she did, she'd fall into the trap I talked about with the first way of living epiphanously.  But, I witness, I experience, sometimes I marvel. I suppose I could just say that she's a good egg (who really says that anyway?). But living epiphanously, I receive her everyday life, to some degree at least, as a gift. I'm not willing or at least desiring to let my way of knowing her or, for that matter, anything else sink back into the blah blah blah of the everyday. This is, she is,  an epiphany. If I keep on opening my eyes. And wondering as I wander. Or is it the other way around?

When I was "home," by which of course I mean in Texas, over Christmas, I had the great pleasure of visiting a sort of retirement home for priests of the Oblate order, some of whom had been my teachers at St. Anthony.  

One of them, Father Walker, was, as much as anyone was, a mentor to me in the high school years. He saw something in me, I forget now what it was, that motivated him to enter me in some kind of "oratory" contest (I gave a speech). I won second place in San Antonio or something. I don't know, I still have the trophy. I was fifteen. 

He also taught me about liturgy. That's fitting, since this is about Epiphany. I don't think really he was that much of expert as such. He just was asked to teach it. I suppose I was one of the few students who really liked it. LITURGY ROCKS. Remember that t-shirt I had? I was fascinated by the modes of worship in the early church and how they had morphed into the modern liturgy which was continuing to morph even as he taught.  I reminded him of that the other day. he smiled. It's not a big smile. You have to look closely to see that it's really a smile. He hadn't changed a bit, except for some of the normal signs of aging.

But the arc of his life certainly had changed a few years after I left the school. He was sent (in an order, you don't "take a position," you "get sent") to Zambia as a missionary priest. He had been a pastor of a church, had built several churches (not just buildings; he was church planting as they say). And he had been in charge of vocation discernment and formation for the students considering the priesthood ministry. 

We talked about other things. What he was reading, for one thing (detective fiction, he said; but he had also just finished re-reading Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, which made me very happy since I had first read it when I was 15 at St. Anthony). We talked about politics. He was much less conservative than I remember. I asked if he had any family. He said no, and then spoke of his "son," a Zambian young man infected with H.I.V. whom Father Walker had adopted in order to care for him before he died.   

Ron Walker. Just another retiree from the Detroit area (why is nobody every just from Detroit or Chicago?) who was once just another Catholic kid from the Detroit area. One who had, perhaps, journeyed far in search of a big epiphany. Perhaps. Or perhaps he was the epiphany. Perhaps, he was the gift. 

Nothing in the room was literally shining. And, sorry to say, it smelled a little . . . like what you'd expect from a nursing facility. Yet I was whopped up side the head, knocked off kilter, plowed up in my already raw guts, by this good, ordinary, hard-working man, who had given some really good years of his life to me and some of my dearest lifelong friends. And given 31 more to Zambia. 

And to the queen of heaven. And the prince of peace. 

Today is Epiphany. Anglicans will be outlandish about celebrating Epiphany all the way until February 2. Good for them. I'm no longer Anglican, but I crave more epiphany, anytime and anywhere I can get it. Once I attended St. Thomas Episcopal on 5th Avenue in New York City on the final Sunday of Epiphany. You would have thought "the holiday season" had never ended. Well, truthfully, I remember thinking that it felt like the Ringling Brothers Circus was in town. Those high-church Episcopalians. They kill me. But, that's OK too. 

For me, Sunday will be the big celebration of the feast of Epiphany. And Monday will be the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus (another pretty big epiphany). Then it will be on to what the church calls "Ordinary Time." I don't like that. But I don't make the rules. Someday when I'm Pope, or when I finally get that audience with Pope Francis and give him all my ideas, you'll see some some big changes around here. Ben Camino has his finger on the pulse of . . . something or other.

Still, having four more Sundays isn't enough anyway. The secret (OK I don't like secrets), the mystery (ooh, I love mysteries, especially the ironic connotations the word stirs up) is how to live epiphanously all through ordinary time, mundane time, dismal time, dark time, depressed time . . . my time. 

Jumping around the house, belting out random karaoke songs with your roomies? That might work. Especially if it's understood, as Gerard Manley Hopkins and maybe even Dorothy Wordsworth might understand it, as a human light shining in the darkness, an electric charge in a too-dull world, a community of saints not ready to be frozen out by the big big chill that surrounds us. 

We are having a cold coming and going of it right now. Check the weather report, y'all. The wise men? I'm not impressed by that. 

But I love, no love is too weak a word for that, I lurve their rather wild, counter-cultural, radical, wide-eyed journey to the wonder. They found it, and "it was (you may say) satisfactory." Oh wait, that's Eliot's lame-ass version. They found it, and it was (you may say) mind-blowing. Partly because of what was revealed, what was manifested. But partly because of their openness, their out-of-the-ordinary pilgrimage, their commitment to the discipline of living epiphanously. 

That's my New Year's thing. That's my Epiphany Gift. That's my new motto. That's the  name of my next album. That's my next t-shirt. That's ©Ben Camino Ltd., International, All Rights Reserved, I will sue your pants off if you even think of whispering "living epiphanously" without my permission. 

Oh, and God bless.  

****Final Note

Ben Camino wants to thanks his readers and his especially his guest writers for being part of this Advent and Christmas journey. Due to some travel and some exhaustion, the complete "Joys of Christmas" series is still unfinished. He hopes eventually to finish it and have it available as a complete set (on the blog or in print).  




  1. Thanks for being who you are. I hope to
    "live epiphanously" this year, too. (Camino, Ben. 2017.)

  2. So "live epiphanously" is not a legal mantra? Bummer.

    I didn't know Eliot was referencing (or ripping off) Lancelot Andrewes. There's a great painting of him in Agecroft Hall, a Renaissance mansion transferred from Northern England to Richmond. And when I went to St. Giles Cripplegate looking for Milton's grave, I discovered no-one knows where it is, but there was Andrewes's modest tomb.

    I love the idea that William and Dorothy were and all-epiphanous team. Can't quite believe you said all this without mentioning Joyce, though, but I guess that's consistent with your disdain for Eliot. Anti-modernist!

    Love even more your story of Father Walker. I think you're right, he IS the epiphany.

    My little epiphany is that someone can misspell "privilege" and "all right" and still write this well! Live epipedantly!