Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fr Peter Mullen's Epiphany Poem

Three Wise Men, 
painted in 1900 by Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874–1951)

The Epiphany of the Lord - 6th January, the Twelfth Day of Christmas - is often undervalued by Western Christians as part of the “quiet recovery period” following Christmas (especially in places like Australia when it is in the middle of the summer holidays with many people away and church life sinking to its lowest ebb). 

But Epiphany is important, as it emphasises the manifestation of Jesus to the whole world. The observance began in the Eastern Churches in the 200’s AD, where it was (and is) primarily a celebration of the Lord’s baptism in the Jordan River. That was a revelation of Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity, with the Holy Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved son, listen to him” (Mark 9:7). The Western Church appropriated for this Feast the arrival of the Magi to worship Jesus as the sign of his identity as Saviour and King of all peoples, Gentiles as well as Jews.  (The other great Epiphany sign is the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee where Jesus “revealed his glory” by transforming water into wine.)

A number of customs grew up around the celebration of Epiphany. A very good adaptation of these for modern conditions can be found HERE and HERE.

I have taken the following poem by Father Peter Mullen from the current issue of New Directions:


In the golden light of these gifts
Incense rises.
In those days when God was young
In the cowshed;
Then steward to that couple by the lake,
The water pots filled with water,
The water made wine.
Little boats on the Sea of Tiberius,
Like eighteenth-century virginals:
Simple: the sort of sketch Picasso would do
On his napkin to pay for his dinner.
Delicate crafts like musical instruments;
Old man Hermon over the lake,
And a meandering of currents down to Masada.
‘Will you come again, Jesus, and tell us that it’s true –
that it’s all true;
And we are not mere husks or empty shells
Cast upon that shore?’
There is life here,
I am under the velvet skin of it,
And the ointment with the purple,
The alabaster box and the woman’s tears.
I love, I think,
But I know not what I love:
Teach me, my God and King.
And when the twilight broods
Over Magdala and Cana,
Capernaum and the little house where once thou sayest, 
‘Whether is easier to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee, or else, 
Arise, take up thy bed and walk’?’
It is the early spring now of thy healing
And the nervous flowers come with music:
I hear, O Sacred Head, and that
The duteous day now closeth.
I lie here in fear and ecstasy.
Remove, O Lord, the types and shadows,
The accursed figures of speech,
The lying similes.
Bring on the harpsichord boats and
The water pots of wine;
The golden light of the first gifts,
The sun, early, east of Jordan:
Frankincense –
And myrrh.


Alice C. Linsley said...

A blessed Epiphany, dear Bishop

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