Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Where are you looking for God?

It's time for us to consider the weekend's readings for the Epiphany, "Behold, magi from the east came to Jerusalem."

There is a story from a collection of the lives of saints - the saints of Islam - which concerns a king of Balkh (now northern Afghanistan) named Ebrahim ibn Adam. Ebrahim was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well.

"One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: 'Who's there?' 'A friend,' came the reply from the roof. 'I've lost my camel.' Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: 'You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?' 'You fool!' the voice from the roof answered. 'Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?' " The story goes on, according to Jesuit theologian Walter G. Burghardt, to tell how these simple words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint (Still Proclaiming your Wonders: Homilies for the Eighties [New York: Paulist Press, 1984], 55).

The camel on the roof raises the Epiphany question, Where are you looking for God? This compelling question of life properly stands at the beginning of a new year, just as, Where have you found God? nicely serves as a question to cap a year's closing. Each one of our texts raises the camel-on-the-roof question in one form or another. Each text is a camel-on-the-roof reminder that God is not to be found where the world's princes and powers reside. Each text calls us to be like the king's friend, willing to make a fool of ourselves asking the camel-on-the-roof question to a world busy seeking God in all the wrong places, willing to rouse the world with the message of "Arise, shine, for your light has come."