by Diane Cameron
I laugh at how many times in my life I have prayed for a sign to let me know that I was on the right path, or what to do, or which choice to make. In very difficult moments I have begged for skywriting from the universe and just last week I told a friend that I'm still waiting for an envelope from God with my name on it. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Mission Impossible, but I want instructions from a higher power that clearly spell out what I am to do with my life.
I know God doesn't work that way, but I also know I'm not alone in wanting him to. Some people flip coins or watch birds or follow the crude metals index. Others keep psychics in business and make sure books on spiritual guidance top of the best seller lists. I've been to Tarot readers and thrown the I Ching and I have a well-worn set of Rune stones.
Years ago when people close to me were dying and I was demanding to know God's will, a friend who was wiser and more experienced in grief chastised and reassured me by saying, "Godís will is what is." The simplicity and profundity of that silenced me for awhile.
But I come back again and again to wanting to know. It's often at this time of year and there's a good reason. As the winter begins and we are faced with dark and cold there is a pull from deep in our bones that makes us seek light and answers.
The need for light at this time of year is so great that we have adapted culturally to give it to ourselves. We had Hanukkah last week, now Solstice and next week Christmas, all great stories about finding light.
The part of the Christmas story that has always meant the most to me is that of the three wise men making their journey, traveling on a hunch, a belief, and their deep wanting. They had studied the sky for years and then they saw their sign. The star in the east led them to the baby Jesus.
In his poem, Journey of the Magi T.S. Eliot wrote: "At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches, with the voices singing in our ears, that this was all folly." Of course that is the problem with star following. You just don't know. We see this most painfully now looking at two Americans in last week's news from Afghanistan: John Walker fighting for the Taliban and John Michael Spann, the first American killed by them. Both were following their stars. But how do you know until you show up whether there's going to be a baby or a bullet?
We have to remember that the wise men did more than follow stars. They also packed up their gifts. They got the good stuff out of storage: gold, frankincense and myrrh, and they gave it.
So the wise men's lesson is all about faith then: We do our best, we study, we consult with others, we try to be wise men and women, but we have to get on our camels, bring our gifts and hope we are doing good and not folly. This is solstice week and these are our darkest days. There are many scary things in front of us: terrorism, global warming, recession and all the daily crimes committed against our hearts.
We cope in the most ancient of ways. We go toward the light--to neon and the mall, to crowds of shoppers, even as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and the fire.
Through all of this we'll read our horoscopes and the fortunes that come with Chinese take-out. We'll hope our loved ones will be spared the only thing that no one can be, which is death. We'll look at the night sky and try to believe.
No wonder a baby born in a barn is a great story. No wonder we look for signs.
(c) Diane Cameron
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