Saint Timothy’s/Saint Peter’s
I live on the mountain
No one knows.
Among white clouds
Eternal perfect silence. – Han Shan
“Beware of beautiful strangers and on Friday avoid travel by water. The sun is moving into the house of Venus so affairs of the heart will prosper!” That’s what we told old Herod, “the King of the Jews”. Or, something along these lines. We made it up. It meant next to nothing. To tell him anything of real value would have taken weeks of calculations of the conjunction of the planets at the precise moment of his birth, and of his parents and parent’s parents back to the fourth generation.
Herod knew nothing of this and jumped at the bone we threw his way, and hungry like a dog he thanked us for it. Then, his hands trembling so that the rings on his fingers rattled like dry bones, he said, “Find me the baby born to be king so that I may go worship him!” When he had said this his hands were still as death.
I ask you, does a man need to look to the stars to tell him that no king has ever bowed down to another king? He took us for fools and so like fools we answered him, “Yes, yes, of course,” and went on our way never to return to him again.
Why did we travel so far to be there when it happened? Was it not enough just to know the secret without having to be there to behold it? To this not even the stars had an answer. The stars simply said he would born. It was another voice altogether that told us to go – a voice deep within ourselves as deep as the stars are deep in the sky.
Why did we go? I cannot tell you now and could not tell you then. We who had venerated Krishna and studied the sutras of Gautama had not one motive but rather so many! Curiosity I suppose: to be curious is to be wise, and we were very wise. We wanted to see for ourselves this One before even the stars are said to bow down – and to see if it was really true since the wise always have their doubts. Doubt, they say, is the ants in the pants of faith.
And longing. Longing. Why will a man struggle and save his whole life long so that in the end he has something to give to the one he loves?
We finally arrived at the place to which the star had pointed us. It was night. It was cold. The innkeeper showed us the way that we did not need to be shown. The odor of the hay was sweet, and the cattle’s breath came out in little puffs of mist. The man, the woman, between them the King. We did not stay long. Only a few minutes as the clock goes, ten thousand, thousand years the same. We set our foolish gifts down and left.
I will tell you two terrible things. What we saw on the face of that new-born child was his death. A fool could have seen it as well. The wood of the manger was the hard wood of the cross.
And we saw, as sure as the earth beneath our feet, that to stay with him would be to share that death, and that is why we left – giving only our gifts, withholding the rest, withholding our very lives.
And now, sisters and brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, and that to die with him is the only true life?
- After Frederick Beuchner, The Magnificent Defeat: The Wise Man, p.68