According to a Midrash from the Jewish tradition, Adam noticed the changing of the seasons during his first year on earth.  As fall became winter, he felt the weather grow colder.  The days became shorter and the nights grew longer. And Adam worried that the daylight would disappear completely and the earth would be devoured in endless darkness.

And so, during the longest night, Adam held desperate vigil over the last dying ember of light.  And just at the moment when he would have lost all hope, he noticed the change in the season.  The night became shorter, the day became longer, and the light gradually returned to the world.

The human heart is attuned to the seasons, which change according to the earth's great circumambulation.  Within this seasonal turning there is a promise: Darkness will never completely consume us.  There will always be a divine light waiting to reemerge.  However, sometimes we must be the ones to hold this spark of light through the darkness.


In the year 1170, a pregnant woman named Juana de Aza had a strange dream. She dreamed that she gave birth to a dog with a torch in its mouth.  The dog ran through the world setting everything aflame.

Juana de Aza consulted a dream interpreter at a local monastery. The interpreter told her that her son would be a saint who would spread the message of truth throughout the world.  The next month she gave birth to St. Dominic.

The torch has always symbolized the truth.  The heart of those who are truthful becomes like a torch – it guides them along through the journey of life.  And those who live truthfully inspire others.   So each torch lights another and in this way the light spreads throughout the world.


In the world of Aristotle, truth is a goddess.  The Greek Aletheia (and her Roman counterpart Veritas) does not just represent correctness.  She is a living being who carries her torch into dark caves and wells, revealing the inner realities.  Her name itself means “the act of unconcealing.”
Truth is therefore an ongoing experience, an ongoing exploration.  It is a seeking, like the quest of the Magi (the Three Wise Men) following the light of the beacon star through the dark deserts of the world.


Three Magi, wise men from afar,
Caspar, Malchior and old Balthasar,

Great Zoroastrian astrologers,
Rejoiced when they saw the star.

The meaning of this new celestial sight,

Shining, inviting in the night,

Was a signal calling from the west,
Blessing them with holy light.

They knew at once that it was best
To sell the things that they possessed,
For to follow this starry light,
Was to be their sacred quest.

And for everything they sold,
They bought frankincense, myrrh and gold,
The swiftest camels they could find,
And packed provisions for the road.

At first their wives said, "Go unload those camels!
You're taking our firewood and candles?
Our extra socks and cooking pots?
Our hats and gloves and sandals?

It's winter and you're taking all the furs!
Since when were you desert travelers?"
But the shining wonder in their eyes

Softened the cries of challengers.

“Always keep your star in view.
May this light guide all you do.
Let it lead your sacred quest,
And the light will shine through you.”


A long darkness preceded life.  It is a darkness that we have not forgotten.  Much of our being still lies hidden within its mystery.  In Genesis, we are told, “In the beginning … the Earth was void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” This is before the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and said,  “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

This is mystery upon mystery. While seeming to depict vast external acts, the story also describes an interior awakening.  The moment of creation continues in every moment, in every life, in every cell and atom. The void is opened every instant a thought or new being is born, and from the eternal darkness, emerges into the world of light.


If you have ever had occasion to be out early in the morning before the dawn breaks, you will have noticed that the darkest time of night is immediately before the dawn.  The darkness deepens and becomes more anonymous.  Light is incredibly generous, but also gentle.  When you attend to the way the dawn comes, you learn how light can coax the dark.  The first fingers of light appear on the horizon, and ever so deftly and gradually, they pull the mantle of darkness away from the world. 

We are always on a journey from darkness into light.  Each day is a journey.  We come out of night into the day.  And we come out of the darkness of winter into the effervescence of springtime.   All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other.
- John O’Donohue


Their caravan crossed dark and darker lands,

Through a wilderness of snow and sand,

Guided by the orient of light,

Their path they came to understand.

As daylight shrank into the night,

They came to Persia and a rare delight:

The palace city of Persepolis
Spilling riches shining bright.

They turned and returned to their goal,

The distant star that pulled the soul.
But the ziggurats of Babylon

Were next to test their self-control.

A wealthy and luxurious place,
Filled with pleasures for every taste,

A library full of famous scrolls,

But they had no time to waste.

They passed gardens echoing with song,
And had listened to camel hooves so long,

That to hear trumpets and tambourines,
The temptation was so very strong,

Inviting them to stop and rest,
But these thoughts they did suppress,
And kicking the camels onward still,
Continued on their quest.

“Always keep your star in view.
May this light guide all you do.
Let it lead your sacred quest,
And the light will shine through you.”


Darkness is one of our closest companions.  The dark is older than the light.  In the beginning was darkness.  The first light was born out of the dark.   All through evolution the light grew and refined itself, until, finally, a new lamp was lit with the human mind… It was a light that could see itself.  The mind brought a new quality of light, which could acknowledge and unveil mystery and create mysteries of its own.

Its eternity of patience rewarded, infinity discovered at last its true mirror in the human soul.  For the first time, there was someone who could see the depths and reflect the glimpses.  In a certain sense, all human action, thought, and creativity make mirrors for life to behold itself.  Yet the closer our acquaintance with the mystery, the more the mystery deepens.  Brightness only reinforces the opaque soul of darkness.  We forget so easily that all our feelings, thoughts, and brightness of mind are born in darkness.  Thoughts are sparks of illumination within the dark silence and stillness of our bodies.  We have an inner kinship with darkness that nothing can dissolve.  This protects us from allowing too much light into the secret centre of our minds.  The immensity and slow beauty of the inner life need the shelter of dark in order to grow and find their appropriate forms.

- John O’Donohue


Before it can grow, a seed must be planted into fertile soil. Growth requires a dark incubation.  Surrounded by the darkness of earth, a seed opens its tender inner self.  The soil nurtures the seedling until it sprouts from the ground.  Yet even after a part of the plants reaches out into the world above, another part remains below the surface. Growth is symmetrical. The deeper the roots plunge into the mysterious dark the higher the plant can reach toward the luminous heavens. 


The road grew long for these three men.

It took them round and back again.

The snow fell harder each dark night,

Storm clouds hid the stars and then,

Caspar drew up his reigns with fright.
He could no longer see the light.

Each wise man faced a different way,

And soon began to fight.

"We must turn back,” Malchior rushed to say.

"No, let us make camp here and stay,

Until we catch sight of the star

What can we do but pray?"

"I can tell you where we are,"

Said shaking, weary Balthazar.

"We have found eternal night
By following that star.”

But as they nearly lost their heart,
The storm clouds burst and tore apart.

Unveiling the deep midnight sky,

Where the star shone in the dark.

The magnificent light had clearly grown,
Through the clouds it brightly shone,
Illuminating sandy dunes
And reflections in the snow.

Around them the whole world glimmered,
Brightly in their eyes it shimmered,
And in a luminous reverie,
They made their way through the blizzard.

In the snow they found the manger square,

An glow in this world they had dared,

To cross all obstacles to come and find

A light divine beyond compare.

“Always keep your star in view.
May this light guide all you do.
Let it lead your sacred quest,
And the light will shine through you.”


When we have children, they pass through our bodies. Our bodies are vessels for their embryogenesis - a capacity we inherited from the vessels that birthed us. All life is a sequence of exquisitely complex forms, each nested in the previous iteration. Every cell arises from a previous cell, and every creature is born from a parent. We originate in the bodies of our parents, who originated in the bodies of our grandparents, and beyond, through a series of countless renditions, which form a transmission back to the very origins of life.

Every human being begins as a single cell, which contains a microcosmic ancestry of the entire tree of life, articulated in atoms, stardust, and light from the beginning of the universe. But every embryo must still labor stage by stage. First we become a tiny swimming creature within the dark primordial sea of the womb. We develop a heart, a brain, eyeballs and limbs.  And finally we are born into the world of light.  Yet even as we go forth into our lives we carry this heritage of billions of years bundled into every one of our cells.  We cannot fully comprehend or articulate this great dark mystery inside of us except to pass it on to our own offspring.


A brilliant constellation filled the sky with light.
Shepherds and their sheep sang throughout the night.
The clatter of camel hooves brought visitors from afar -
a caravan of gifts following the star.

A donkey brayed. The oxen moaned.
Sounds of celebration came from every home.
Friends and family gathered all around -
everyone returning to the old hometown.

Only one place was filled with quite peace -
a humble little barn of gentle sleeping beasts.
There in the silence and the darkness inside,
a child was born to a mystical bride.

So as we write our Christmas lists,
and rush to buy and wrap our gifts,
and when our friends and families meet,
to sing and dance and talk and eat,

Is there a place deep inside of you,
that is quiet and peaceful too?
Because at first light on Christmas morn,
that is the place where God is born.


“As we three entered the holy land,
We had expected something grand:
Perhaps a palace fit for kings.

But instead through snow and sand,

We found a warm and humble stable,
Some shepherds around the table,
And there the peaceful child slept,
With a manger for his cradle.

The babe glowed with a light surreal
That radiated love's ideal.

Between the mother and the father,

We approached and bowed to kneel.

A wonder beyond Babylon and Persepolis,

For the miracle we beheld was really this:
The brightest light shines upon,

A family’s simple bliss.

We offered up our gifts so they might thrive.

And through this dark world survive,
For in their perfect innocence,

The light had been revived.

“Always keep your star in view.
May this light guide all you do.
Let it lead your sacred quest,
And the light will shine through you.”


No matter what went on around them; no matter
what message the snowstorm was straining to utter;
or how crowded they thought that wood affair;
or that there was nothing for them anywhere;

first, they were together. And — most of all — second,
they now were a threesome.

Joseph Brodsky


Every evening Artavan watched the skies from his garden. It was a cold night in the early month of winter when he first saw the star. He did not need to consult his astrolabes or books. He knew what the divine light foretold - Christ had been born in the west.

He had long planned a journey to meet the new prophet king. Along with three other astrologers, Artavan had made a solemn promise: to meet at the crossroads seven days after the appearance of the star. Artavan did not know if he would ever return. So he sold all of his possessions and said goodbye to his family and friends.

With everything he sold he acquired three gifts: a pearl as white as the moon, a ruby as bright as the sun, and a diamond as black as night. On the appointed day he took a swift camel and rode off towards the crossroads. He rode through the day and night in order to be on time to meet his companions.

But as he rode through the darkest hour of night he came upon a man lying by the side of the road. Artavan reigned in his camel and looked down at the dying man. He must have been attacked by some dreadful highway bandits. Artavan knew that if he stopped to help he would be late to meet his companions. But how could he just leave the man to die by the side of the road?

So Artavan stepped down from his camel and lifted the injured man onto his saddle.  And he led them both to a nearby village. Artavan found some relatives of the dying man to take him in and give him care. But by the time Artavan arrived at the crossroads his companions had already departed….


When it’s Christmas we’re all of us magi.

At the grocers’ all slipping and pushing.

Where a tin of halvah, coffee-flavored,

is the cause of a human assault-wave

by a crowd heavy-laden with parcels:

each one his own king, his own camel.

- Joseph Brodsky


Artavan would have followed his companions west, but he did not have a caravan or supplies to cross the desert. So he sat by the crossroads for a long time. Finally he reached into his vest and found the pearl. For a moment he held it close and mourned the loss of his gift. Then he rode back to the village and sold the expensive pearl.  With the profits he bought seven camels packed with food and water, everything he needed to cross the desert.

Through the middle month of winter Artavan travelled across the desert, always a few days behind his friends. During the day he followed their footprints in the sand.  At night the star was his guide.

After a long journey he arrived in the sleepy little village of Bethlehem. He found the inn and met the innkeeper, a friendly woman with a child of her own. She told Artavan the story: The carpenter Joseph and his wife had spent the night in the stable. In the night the young wife had given birth.

The innkeeper also remembered the other astrologers: They had come, bowed before the child, and given gifts of spice and gold. Then, as quickly as they had arrived, the family disappeared.

Artavan wept as he heard the story. His whole life he had prepared for this moment and now he had  missed everything….

Just then they heard a cruel trumpet blast. Herod’s soldiers entered town, dragging families into the streets and killing every child. As the soldiers approached the inn, the innkeeper pleaded with Artavan, “Stranger, can you save my child?”

Artavan stepped out to meet the soldiers. “In exchange for the blood of a child,” he asked, “Will you take this red gem?”

The soldiers nodded and took the ruby.

Now Artavan had only one jewel left. He heard the family had fled south with their child into Egypt. So he followed ….


Why should we love our enemies?  The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.

 - Martin Luther King


For many years Artavan searched for Christ - in Roman forts and palaces, in temples beside the flowing Nile, in gardens and sycamore groves. In Alexandria he met an old sage, “Christ is not found in rich places.” he told Artavan who had searched so long, “He is found with the poor and hungry.”

And so Artavan traveled with beggars. He spent his days in hospitals and prisons, living with those who suffer the most. After many years, Artavan passed through the great sacred city of Jerusalem. There was some revolution going on and angry crowds packed the streets.

In the chaos Artavan heard a man cry out, “Come to Calvary! They are killing Christ!”
And the crowd pressed toward the hill to see the Romans kill another man.

Artavan took out his final black jewel and rushed off with the teeming crowd,  hoping to have one final glimpse of the king who he had searched for his whole life. As he moved through the crooked streets he saw a young slave girl being sold. She cried out, “Save me from this evil fate!”

Artavan’s heart made him stop. He looked at his last jewel. For a moment he mourned the loss and then he bought the girl’s freedom.

Just then a great darkness fell. An earthquake shook the city.  The crowds fled. Clouds of dust and darkness filled the air. And Artavan knew  it was over. Christ had died. And he had missed his final chance.

 “My quest is over and I have failed.” Artavan wept, “Christ, I am sorry. I never saw your face”

Just then a voice called down to Artavan from the hill of death, “Do not weep. You have seen my face.”

“When you helped the dying man, that was me. The newborn child, the slave girl, the homeless and imprisoned, those who cry for justice, they are my face. Give compassion to the whole world and you will have given a greater gift than all the jewels and gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”

And Artavan cried because he knew that he had accomplished his quest and seen the face
of God.


The Catholic philosopher and social worker Jean Vanier began as a scholar of Aristotle.  In a recent interview he describes his philosophical orientation:

“The main theme with Aristotle is the primacy of experience over ideas.  So the worst thing that can happen for Aristotelians is to become Aristotelians. Because then they start reading and thinking about Aristotle, but they are no longer linked with reality - to touch reality, to listen to people, to see the world evolving, and so on… 

For me, the most important thing is to love reality. Not to live in the imagination: what could have been or what should have been.  But to love reality.  And then to discover, in reality, that God is present.”


The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.  That temple, which was first based on the Garden of Eden, has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.   And although the ancient ruin is still fought over by men and nations, its true form is found within the human heart.

Like the temple, each of us has a sacred sanctuary inside.   Within this inner temple is the altar of the heart.   No matter what darkness and war wages outside, we can keep our inner altar kindled with the light of divine love, and guidance, and thanksgiving.

The outer temple will be destroyed and rebuilt again.  The kingdom will be captured and ransomed again.   There will always be darkness and war.  Yet we can still tend to our inner light.  Hanukkah celebrates the relighting of the altar,  even in the midst of war and darkness.

“May your heart be an altar, from which the bright flame
of unending thanksgiving ascends to Heaven”
- St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier


There is something quiet about Jesus.  He encountered people who suffered from disease and poverty, and people who were caught up in prostitution and money.  And he would sit with them and eat with them.  And he would listen to them.

Sometimes he would reassure them that God loves everyone.


The body is like Mary and each of us has a Jesus inside.
Who is not in labor, holy labor? Every creature is.

See the value of true art when the earth or a soul is in
the mood to create beauty,

for the witness might then for a moment know beyond
any doubt, God is really there within,

so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical universe,

though also needing to be born, yes God also needs to be born,

birth from a hand's loving touch, birth from a song breathing
life into this world.

The body is like Mary, and each of us, each of us, has a
Christ within.

- Jelaluddin Rumi


We are accustomed to relating to God as a parent. So it is new relationship when, in the Nativity story, we encounter the Divine in a newborn child. And yet, as a parent remembering the birth of my own son, I can completely relate to encountering in my tender child the fullness of creation, with all its complicated emotions. The sacred responsibility, the true devotion, the willingness to sacrifice one’s own needs for the child - these sprung naturally from all-consuming love the moment we first lay eyes on our children. The birth of one's child is one of the holiest moments in life.

The same devotion  we feel toward our children is required to experience God. One must be willing to lose oneself completely in love. The theologian Meister Eckhart describes the mystical birth of Christ in the  human soul: "The great spiritual being will be born in the human soul, if one willingly accepts the burden and pain caused by Divine love." 


The deepest desire of us all is not only to be admired, but to be loved.  Aristotle makes a distinction between admiration and love.  When you admire someone, you put them on a pedestal.  When you love someone, you want to be together.

One of the words of Jesus to Peter (in the gospel of St. John) is, “Do you love me?”

So there is the cry of God, saying, “Do you love me?” And there is the cry of humanity, saying, “Do you love me?”  And these two cries become one.

However, we are out of balance. We educate people to become knowledgeable and capable.  But we must also educate people to relate, to listen, to help people become themselves. Children can bring this equilibrium of the heart. 

Maybe a father is a very strong man, a businessman.   But when he gets home, if he gets down on his hands and knees and plays with a child, it is the child that is teaching the father something about tenderness and love.  Children teach us what it means to be human, how to relate, and celebrate life together.

- Jean Vanier (from a 2007 Christmas radio interview)


The great Sufi mystic, Ibn 'Arabi was born in southern Spain, at the time of the flowering of Andalusian Moorish culture.  Among his many beautiful poems is this one, written to the human-being from the perspective of the Divine:

O my beloved,
You are the reason for the being of the world.
You are the center point of the sphere and it’s encompassing.
You are its complexity and simplicity.
You are the order brought down between heaven and earth.

I did not create for you realizations,
Except that you realize me in them.
And when you realize me you realize yourself.

Beloved, how often have I called you and you do not hear?
How often have I stood before you and you do not witness me?
How often have I embodied myself in scents and you do not inhale?
And in the flavors you do not savor the taste for my sake.
What is the matter with you?

Why do you not see me?
Why do you not hear me?

I am the Beautiful. 
I am the Elegant.
Love me.
 Love me. Love me alone.
Desire me most ardently.

Be consumed in me.

You will not find an intimate like me.
I am closer to you than yourself.
O heart, O heart.


St. Catherine of Siena was oriented toward God from a very young age.  When her parents urged her to marry she cut of all her hair and went without food.  After a long protest they allowed her to follow her calling and become part of the Dominican Order.

I first saw God when I was a child, six years old.

The face of the sun was pale before Him.
And the earth acted like a shy girl, like me.

His Divine light, which entered my heart,
continues to shine. Though I understand
how a person’s faith can flicker at times.

For what is the mind to do with something
that overwhelms the mind: a God
that consumes us in His grace.

A Beloved of infinite tenderness,
more gentle than the Mother’s first kiss
upon the newborn Christ.


God is revealed in every word and every act.
I know this may be hard to comprehend:
All creatures are helping God be born.

But enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me.

I need to be silent
for a while,

as the light forms
in my heart.