The Epiphany was on a Saturday this Christmas season and we began our celebration early. When the kids woke in the morning our Three Kings decorations were already out. We have star napkins made by Grandma and a night-sky-blue tablecloth. For the table centerpiece there was a wood-mounted painting of the wise men following the star, with the magi figures from our Nativity set traversing moors and mountains, fields and fountains across the rest of our table. A small Epiphany-themed surprise waited at each child’s place. Last year it was miniature wood chests filled with plastic gems; this year there were little camping lanterns (to shine like a star in the night).
A busy slate of activities awaited us the rest of the day. The kids would make their costumes, the foundation of which is always their bathrobes, also made by Grandma. This year we added knit beard-hats, because nothing completes the wise-man look like flowing beards of yarn. During Christmas we save the empty cardboard tubes from wrapping paper and the kids use them to make camels for the Epiphany (camel heads are made from cardboard and attached to the end of the tube, there are twine reins, and the kids straddle the cardboard tube when it comes time to form our desert caravan). We use another wrapping paper tube to mount a star, which the kids also make. The star will then be born aloft at the head of our procession as we march around the house in search of the newborn King. The kids also make paper crowns and gifts to bring from afar to complete their regal ensembles (this year they painted empty water bottles and filled them with gold glitter as their gifts to present to Jesus).
With the kingly crafting completed, we have a special dinner, cake, and read the story of the Magi from the Bible. We also read a reflection for the day culled from a book or online, and put a copy into our Epiphany box for future years.
After concluding the cake and contemplation portion of the evening, it’s time to move on to the main event (or is it a “mane” event?): the donning of costumes, mounting of camels, and giddy-up! Singing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” we follow the star that leads us, eventually, by a more or less circuitous path (and when the three-year-old is at the celestial helm the circuitous can veer into outright careening; not all who wander are lost, some are just led by a three-year-old), to finally reach the baby Jesus under the Christmas tree in his manger of straw.
Last, we brave the cold of a winter’s night to chalk our door with the “C+M+B” blessing.
So in the morning, with an eye to the arduous Epiphany adventures awaiting us, I made a big breakfast of bacon and eggs to fortify ourselves against the days impending endeavors.
It was after breakfast that I overheard a most interesting conversation. Seated amid the Nativity-set wise men and star napkins, the kids lingered at the table discussing the Epiphany.
I started clearing the dishes and cleaning-up, and as I shuttled back and forth between sink and table, I caught snatches of their conversation. It began by remembering when someone thought the wise men brought “gold, Frankenstein, and myrrh” as gifts. They should have known that was wrong, the kids reasoned, since the other two gifts — gold and myrrh — are things that God made, not man. (I thought it a good observation that the wise men give back to God the gifts that God has given us.)
Frankenstein doesn’t fit that model, one child argued, because he was made by man (and he’d be really hard to haul on a camel).
Another disagreed, reasoning that God made the mad scientist, and the mad scientist was the instrumentality for the creation of Frankenstein.
No the first child countered, the mad scientist’s own evil was an intervening factor breaking that causal chain.
Her sibling countered that the mad scientist was mad, not evil, since the mad scientist wasn’t intending to do evil in creating Frankenstein, as compared to Herod who was evil because he intended to do evil in killing Jesus.
The first argued that the mad scientist should have known better than to create Frankenstein.
And so it continued.
With the last dishes cleared, I left the discussion and retired to the kitchen sink to ruminate over the snippets I’d garnered in my back-and-forth, and as the suds rose in the sink basin a realization burst in my brain like the popping of a dish-soap bubble: Plato had it all wrong.
Plato, the famous transcriber of Socratic inquiries, famously declared: “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.”
My question is: how would he know?
To paraphrase Chesterton, I don’t think the unexamined life has been tried and found wanting; rather, the unexamined life has yet to be lived.
As Chesterton also said, every man is a mystic. We all puzzle at the universe, we all ask the big questions. If you doubt it, just listen to the breakfast-table banter of children.
Better than Plato is Peter.
As in: The Rock. The man who walked on water with Jesus. And later jumped in that same Sea of Galilee and swam ashore to face the risen Jesus he had denied three times. The man entrusted with the keys. The man who met the risen Jesus again on the Appian Way as he was leaving Rome, at the place where stands today the Church of Domine Quo Vadis in honor of that encounter, and then turned around and walked back to Rome and his own crucifixion.
It was this Peter who wrote: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope . . .” 1 Pt 3: 15.
I used to think of Saint Peter’s words in terms of airplane conversations, but maybe they apply even more in our homes, with the people closest to us, than they do with strangers.
Our kids are asking questions, they’re searching for answers, and we can help them in their quest. As Scripture also tells us, “a word in season, how good it is!” Prv 15: 23.
Copyright 2018 Jake Frost