Madeleine L’Engle does it again! Read this Epiphany poem once, twice, three times:
One king’s epiphany
I shall miss the stars.
Not that I shall stop looking
as they pattern their wild will each night
across an inchoate sky, but I must see them with a different awe.
If I trace their flames’ ascending and descending –
relationships and correspondences –
then I deny what they have just revealed.
The sum of their oppositions, juxtapositions, led me to the end of all sums:
a long journey, cold, dark and uncertain,
toward the ultimate equation.
How can I understand? If I turn back from this,
compelled to seek all answers in the stars,
then this – Who – they have led me to
is not the One they said: they will have lied.
No stars are liars!
My life on their truth!
If they had lied about this
I could never trust their power again.
But I believe they showed the truth,
truth Whom I have touched with my own hands,
worshipped with my gifts.
If I have bowed, made
obeisance to this final arithmetic,
I cannot ask the future from the stars without betraying
the One whom they have led me to.
It will be hard not ask, just once again,
see by mathematical forecast where he will grow,
where go, what kingdom conquer, what crown wear.
But would it not be going beyond truth
(the obscene reduction ad absurdum)
to lose my faith in truth once, and once for all
revealed in the full dayspring of the sun?
I cannot go back to night.
O Truth, O small and unexpected thing,
You have taken so much from me.
How can I bear wisdom’s pain?
But I have been shown: and I have seen.
Yes. I shall miss the stars.
– Madeleine L’Engle
The poem describes a mourning and a gaining, a seeing and a no-longer-looking, a finding and a losing, a Truth touched that changes one’s relationship to what has been most valued. Following the ultimate equation leads to the One beyond the arithmetic. The end erases the path.
I grieve with this king. I’ve known times when what is found is wondrous, but what it means in loss intimidates. Have you? What happens when we apply this to the simplest arithmetic of our relating to God – prayer?
I very much like the writings of Ruth Burrows, Carmelite. Early in her Essence of Prayer she speaks of being attached to the strategies and methodologies of prayer being a bit of a trap. I utterly agree. We can become so focused on the how that we forget the Who. The purpose is encounter with Love, not a completion of our favored strategies and some success to mark in our do-it-yourself I-am-not-a-prayer-for-dummies gradebook or prayer journal. We become very attached to hows: they help us feel more in control in this relationship that is all unknowing — and some insoluble combination of mist, bright light and darkness when we try to put it in words.
Ah, but why would such little ones as we expect to word the Word in ultimate fashion? We share sketches and glimpses, which is why this blog has been full of poetry during these days since Christmas.
When we meet the Word, the Truth – like the one king of L’Engle’s epiphany – we have come to the end of our arithmetic. If we have been mathematician only, and lover only of the vehicle that brings us to what we seek, our loss is greater. For me, when we meet the Word, all these images I love to play with fail. All comes to silence, to no more equations. We have seen. And so, perhaps the best prayer for this one king, and for us, is the way to come to silence with Psalm 46:
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Oh, one king, we pray with you. We miss our stars too, but meet you in the region where the One we know as Truth reigns well. The stars never lied, no fear. Help us to release ours as you have yours… the better to encounter, unencumbered by our strategies and lesser loves, the Word who Loves and is ever With us, Emmanuel.