"What are you seeking?" by Zachary Helton
“Arise, shine, for your light has come! the glory of YHWH is rising upon you! Though darkness still covers the earth and dense clouds enshroud the peoples, upon you YHWH now dawns, and God’s glory will be seen among you! The nations will come to your light and the leaders to your bright dawn! Lift up your eyes, and look around: they’re all gathering and coming to you— your daughters and your sons journey from afar, escorted in safety; you’ll see them and beam with joy, your heart will swell with pride. The riches of the sea will flow to you, and the wealth of the nations will come to you— camel caravans will cover your roads, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; everyone in Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and singing the praise of YHWH.
After Jesus’ birth—which happened in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod—astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the newborn ruler of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay homage.” At this news Herod became greatly disturbed, as did all of Jerusalem. Summoning all the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. “Here is what the prophet has written: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, since from you will come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Herod called the astrologers aside and found out from them the exact time of the star’s appearance. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, after having instructed them, “Go and get detailed information about the child. When you have found him, report back to me—so that I may go and offer homage, too.” After their audience with the ruler, they set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child lay. They were overjoyed at seeing the star and, upon entering the house, found the child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and paid homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented the child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.
The night was quiet except for the chirping of insects and the crackle of fire. The wind whistled through the trees as three figures sat around the flames to keep warm, resting after a long day on the road. One of the figures slapped his hand across his knee, breaking the silence, again. “I just can’t tell you how pleased it makes me to see two wise men like yourselves making this pilgrimage.” There was a simultaneous eye roll from the other two. “Oh, I’ll bet you can,” the eldest traveler, Balthasar retorted. Since meeting Melchior on the road earlier that day, Melchior had been singing the praises of his homeland so fervently, he’d barely stopped to breathe. He kept carrying on about how much they were going to love it, how their world would never be the same, how he’d been away on business for far too long and he couldn’t wait to get back. After only a day, it was wearing quite thin. Melchior laughed off the old traveler’s gibe and went on talking, oblivious to his companions’ annoyance. “We have a prophecy, you see,” Melchior said, “that one day all of the other nations will realize that they’ve been walking in darkness, and they’ll flock to the true light, which is Israel. ‘Kings will come to the brightness of our dawn!’” The third traveler, Gaspar, had not spoken that evening, but was beginning to wonder if Judea would be filled of men as full of hot air as this one. If so, Gaspar thought, perhaps I should’ve stayed home. “’They shall see you and be radiant,’” Melchior was still quoting in a dramatic, self-assured tone. “’Your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the nations shall bring you the abundance of their wealth!” “Afraid I didn’t bring much of that,” Balthasar interjected. “Gold and frankincense!” Melchior went on, ignoring him. “They shall proclaim and praise the God of Israel!’ Oh, that you two have realized the falsehoods of your own religions and recognized the greatness of our God…” “And remind me once more,” Balthasar interrupted, “what it is that is so great about your nation?” Melchior gave a dismissive laugh. “Well… like I’ve been telling you! It is the dwelling place of the light! Our sacred scriptures possess the most sacred truth!” “Yes yes yes,” Balthasar waved his words away as if they were gnats. “So you’ve said. ‘Truth,’ ‘light,’ all that… but what I’m asking is what is that supposed to mean?” “Excuse me?” “It’s a simple question. What has this ‘light’ and ‘truth’ done for you? What fruit has it borne for you and your people? I am asking what is so great that you would travel this long road to Judea from so far away.” Balthasar stared expectantly as Melchior frantically searched for the right words. There was an edge of defensiveness in his voice now. “What has God done for us? Well, of course, God shows us what is right and wrong… God protects those who are obedient… God makes us strong and shows us the way of righteousness…” “And this has brought prosperity and peace, yes?” Balthasar pressed, a glint in his eye. “Your people live in freedom and there is goodwill among all?” He knew the answer to his question before he asked. “Well…” Melchior was beginning to sound angry, “we’re not perfect! There are those who live in sin and if they would just…” “Ah, yes,” Balthasar kept pressing, “but your people are making progress, then. Yes? They are becoming people ‘radiant,’ as you say, with the light of abundance and wisdom? People who live with justice and prosperity? Hmm?” He paused a moment. “Or, perhaps, might they be as full of empty, self-congratulatory nonsense as you are? Desperate to convert others so that they don’t ever actually have to take a critical look at themselves? Might that be closer to reality?” Balthasar held his face in mock curiosity. Melchior sat in stunned silence. Gaspar was stifling a giggle. “How dare you?” Melchior demanded. “How dare I hold you to your own standards?” Balthasar asked. “Oh, it’s easier than you might think.” “If you’re going to sit here an insult me and my people… I am…” Melchior looked from Balthasar to Gaspar. “Excuse me,” he spat. He stood up and walked away in a huff, disappearing into the darkness. There was silence for a moment. “That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?” Gaspar said after a few moments. “You would rather he stick around to sing more praises of Jerusalem?” Balthasar asked. “Forgive me, I misread your look of fatal boredom.” Gaspar smiled. “That’s not what I meant. I didn’t think you needed to insult him is all.” “My dear, those who confuse honesty with insults rarely leave this world any better than they found it.” Gaspar nodded in agreement while at the same time removing a head covering that sent long hair cascading down her shoulders, covered in layers of form-concealing garments. Balthasar, she had long trusted with the truth of who she really was. Melchior, she did not. She wondered what insults or triggering looks of disapproval he might begin throwing her way if he learned she was a woman daring to travel across the world, alone, disguised as a man. She was several weeks into her journey when she’d met up with Balthasar and gathered they were going in the same direction. It only took one conversation over one campfire to convince her he could be trusted. With Melchior, it only took one conversation to convince her he could not. “What about you?” Balthasar asked, this time with genuine curiosity. It brought her back to the moment. “What about me what?” Gaspar asked. “For you, what is so great that you would travel this road to Judea from so far away, risking so much more, I might add, than Melchior or myself?” They had spoken around this subject around other campfires, but he had thus far not asked this question, not exactly. Both students of astrology, they’d seen the same movement of the cosmos, same the promise of a new king born to the Jews… but why they’d follow the call of the stars… that was a different question. Gaspar had assumed from Balthasar’s demeanor that he was simply going to pay homage – traveling out of a sense of nobility or curiosity – but now she wondered. “The people I come from…” Gaspar began, “they are, well… they are like Melchior, to tell the truth. They worship the gods and they speak of virtue and righteousness, but they do so while grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt. They care nothing for the most vulnerable, they take whatever they want, they prosper on the labor of others. And when they are confronted…” she stifled a painful memory, “when people like me speak up… they don’t listen. They lash out and protect themselves.” She shook her head and looked into the fire. “I left because I could bear it no longer. I am so tired. I’m tired of the way they treat the poor… I’m tired of the way they treat anyone different… I’m tired of the way they treat women… I’m tired of being laughed at or beaten, of standing on the outside looking in while the few and the privileged feast on enough food for twelve men…” She looked up at Balthasar. “I travel this road because I seek justice, and I risk so much because I would rather die in the pursuit of justice than live in a world without it. “We come from a different people with a different practice, so I don’t know what you saw when you read the stars, but I saw the promise of one who believes in justice. I saw King who would rule with gentleness and equity and compassion and kindness… one who would work to build the kind of world I want to live in, so I left everything, and followed it.” Balthasar nodded, listening closely. “And what about you?” Gaspar asked, sighing deeply and wiping a tear from her face. “What is so great for you that you would travel this road? Knowing where you come from, you must have been travelling for a month before we met.” “Two months,” Balthasar corrected kindly. “And the way I read the stars… I travel, not so much for a king as a teacher. You see, the injustice that you speak of, the suffering inflicted on your people, I believe it comes from somewhere deep in us. I am of the mind that it comes from a sort of sickness, something that covers over our true, good, and generous nature and we forget who we are. We go to war with ourselves and war spills out into the world we make.” “You seek one who can heal the sickness?” Gaspar asked. Balthasar nodded. “In a way, yes. I seek one who might teach us how to heal our own wounds, and in so doing… the wounds in our world. I travel because I seek one who can teach us the path to peace, realpeace… how to walk a way of patience, understanding, and self-control. I seek one who can help us realize the joy of who we really are, to become who we really are.” “And what’s that?” Gaspar asked. “Who are we, really?” Balthasar smiled. “Children of God,” he said. “I seek one who will show us a Way to walk to become the Children of God we already are.” “That’s beautiful,” Gaspar said, but then a familiar dark cloud passed over her face. It cast a shadow on her soul. “What was that?” Balthasar asked. “What just passed through your mind?” “It’s just…” Gaspar started. “Balthasar, what if we don’t find it? What if we’ve made this journey, risked everything, and all we find is…” she gestured towards the dark where Melchior had disappeared, “more of him?” Balthasar’s answer came without hesitation, calm and clear. “Then we keep moving,” he said. “We keep seeking. One step at a time, we keep following that star...” “Until we find what we seek,” Gaspar finished his thought. “No,” Balthasar corrected. “Until we become what we seek.” A rustling in the leaves told them that Melchior was on his way back, surely not wanting to risk a night alone in the woods. Gaspar pulled the covering back over her head, tucking her hair back and out of sight, pulling it low to cast her features once more in shadow. “I’m turning in,” Balthasar said before Melchior could sit down or say anything haughty, “and I suggest you do the same.” He looked at Gaspar. “Tomorrow is another leg of the journey.” She nodded. “One step at a time.”
Invitation to Respond
On paper, or with someone in the room, reflect on one or more of these questions:
· Where did you see yourself in the story? Who were you?
· What are you seeking in this season of your life?
· What are the implications for you? What do you feel invited to do or be?