THE GIFTS THAT THE three Wise Men, or Kings, or Magi, brought to the manger in Bethlehem cost them plenty but seem hardly appropriate to the occasion. Maybe they were all they could think of for the child who had everything. In any case, they set them down on the straw—the gold, the frankincense, the myrrh—worshiped briefly, and then returned to the East where they had come from. It gives you pause to consider how, for all their great wisdom, they overlooked the one gift that the child would have been genuinely pleased to have someday, and that was the gift of themselves and their love.

The foolishness of the wise is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than by the way the three Magi went to Herod the Great, King of the Jews, to find out the whereabouts of the holy child who had just been born King of the Jews to supplant him . It did not even strike them as suspicious when Herod asked them to be sure to let him know when they found him so he could hurry on down to pay his respects.

Luckily for the holy child, after the three Magi had followed their star to the manger and left him their presents, they were tipped off in a dream to avoid Herod like the plague on their way home.

Herod was fit to be tied when he realized he'd been had and ordered the murder of every male child two years old and under in the district. For all his enormous power, he knew there was somebody in diapers more powerful still. The wisdom of the foolish is perhaps nowhere better illustrated.

-From Peculiar Treasures and Listening to Your Life

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No Time Lost?

Godric is speaking:

"AILRED, I KNOW hours well enough," I said. "Stick a twig into the soil and watch the shadow turn. That's hours. Or take old Wear out there. Let him rise another inch or two, and either we'll grow gills or shipwreck sure. That's hours for you. It's inch by inch and hour by hour to death. It's hours gone and hours still to go. No puzzle there. A child can count it out. But what is time itself, dear friend? What is the sea where hours float? Am I daft, or is it true there's no such thing as hours past and other hours still to pass, but all of them instead are all at once and never gone? Is there no time lost that ever was? Is there no time yet to come that's not here now?" 

-From Godric and Listening to Your Life

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Listen for Him

THE QUESTION is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God's things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak—even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. "Be not afraid," says another, "for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.

-From The Sacred Journey and Listening to Your Life

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Reinhold Niebuhr

IN THE LAST ANALYSIS, I have always believed, it is not so much their subjects that the great teachers teach as it is themselves. In some box in the attic, or up over the garage, I must still have notes on the lectures I heard given by Niebuhr, Tillich, and the rest of them. It would be possible to exhume them and summarize some of what struck me most. But though much of what these teachers said remains with me still and has become so much a part of my own way of thinking and speaking that often I sound like them without realizing it, it is they themselves who left the deeper mark.

I see Reinhold Niebuhr, for instance, in a beret with the wind ballooning out his raincoat as he walks his poodle along Riverside Drive. A stroke had left his speech slightly indistinct at times and one arm less than fully functional, but he always gave me the impression of great energy and wit, great involvement in the events of his time. He had been Roosevelt's adviser. He was Auden's friend. There seemed to be no phase of human history that he didn't have at his fingertips, no eminence that he couldn't have attained in any field where he'd chosen to attain it; but it was to the church that he gave himself in all its shabbiness as well as all its glory, to his students, to the work of Christ, whom he served with all his urbanity and shrewdness—that tamed cynic, as he called himself, his bad arm tucked in against his chest and his speech slurred. It was the glittering breadth of his knowledge that I remember best, his gift for applying the insights of the Christian faith to the whole spectrum of politics, economics, international affairs. He was bald, owlish-looking, with deep frown-lines, a deep-cut, sardonic mouth. He had a nose quick to sniff out the irony and ambivalence of things in general and of piety in particular, an eye sharp to perceive that the children of darkness are apt to be not only wiser but often more appealing and plausible than the children of light.

-Originally published in Now and Then

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Alphabet of Grace

LIFE ITSELF CAN BE thought of as an alphabet by which God graciously makes known his presence and purpose and power among us. Like the Hebrew alphabet, the alphabet of grace has no vowels, and in that sense his words to us are always veiled, subtle, cryptic, so that it is left to us to delve their meaning, to fill in the vowels, for ourselves by means of all the faith and imagination we can muster. God speaks to us in such a way, presumably, not because he chooses to be obscure but because, unlike a dictionary word whose meaning is fixed, the meaning of an incarnate word is the meaning it has for the one it is spoken to, the meaning that becomes clear and effective in our lives only when we ferret it out for ourselves.

-From The Sacred Journey and Listening to Your Life 

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