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Another Perspective

Epiphany Is a Myth

When Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell about the power of myth, there were two different reactions. The extraverts heard his stories and responded by using the word myth to indicate what is false. The events in his stories really never happened. The introverts responded to Campbell's stories as descriptions of an inner process that is true. Myths, for the most part, are descriptions of what is happening on the inside of each of us. Both of these responses to mythology are correct. As a young child observed: “Myths are true on the inside but not on the outside.”

The story of Epiphany tells of three magi* (sages) following a star to find the baby Jesus. When they find the newborn Christ, they knell and offer him precious gifts**. The extraverted among us strive to prove this story was possible by studying the movement of the stars at the time of Jesus’ birth. This is as silly as those explorers who still seek some proof of Noah’s ark by earnestly combing the mountains of Turkey. Introverts know that it does not matter whether or not the story has historic (outer) reality. Even without outer actuality, Epiphany has great value. Epiphany is a myth. It so astutely describes an inner spiritual process that it has been recounted and celebrated repeatedly for nearly 2000 years.

Epiphany teaches the importance of leaving our well-established ways in the world to follow an inner light that will guide us to the very source of life. Epiphany is about the ego (the inner magi) following a Divine consciousness (star in the sky) that has its own path, one that appears misguided to those who are commercially inclined. Yet when the ego is courageous enough to break from conventional thinking to pursue the journey to Christ, no treasure is too great to offer in return for discovering the Divine Presence residing within.

How might we follow an inner Divine consciousness that has its own path to the source of life? My answer is to follow my dreams. A dream, like the star in the Epiphany story, points beyond itself to a greater reality: to where the Divine Presence can be found and experienced. Once we catch a glimpse of this, no treasure is too great to offer in return.

These are my thoughts about Epiphany. What does Epiphany mean to you?

* The idea that these magi were kings first appears with Tertullian in the late 2nd century. It wasn’t until the 6th century that the magi were given names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
This story is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. Mark and John do not reference it. Luke tells the story with a twist. Instead of magi, it is shepherds who are called to seek the Christ child. They are not lead by a star but encouraged to go by angels.
** During the Middle Ages the good people of Milan claimed that they possessed the gifts the magi brought Jesus. They said they’d gotten them in the 5th century from Constantiople. In 1162 Frederick Barbarossa took the relics from Milan to Germany where they can be found today in the Cologne Cathedral.
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