The National Catholic Review
Margaret Silf
The starlight had dimmed. The magic of the Magi had dissolved into the gray of a January work week. And it had been a long week. I was feeling quite tired as I climbed into the taxi that would take me on the first stage of my journey home from the retreat house where I had been working. I was also anxiously thinking back over all that had passed, wondering whether the retreatants had benefited from their experience and mulling over problems that I knew awaited me back home.

I took my leave of the people there who had welcomed me so warmly for the week and supported me so generously. Such farewells are a regular feature of my life these days, and they are two-edged. On the one hand, I know that for the people who give me hospitality I am just a ship passing in the night. There is no real permanence, and the journey moves on. On the other hand, I also know that those whose lives have ever connected, however briefly, remain in some deep sense forever connected. If a place has been my home for a week, then it remains at some level forever my home.

So with such thoughts I waved my goodbyes and sped off toward the station, with no thought that this might unfold into something of an epiphany journey, and little guessing that I would encounter three Magi of my own en routethree moments that gave me a completely unexpected dip into God’s well of wisdom.

The taxi driver took the road carefully in the morning half-light. We approached the town and rounded a bend to head up to the station. And there on the corner stood a pub that caught my eyenot because it was especially scenic, but on account of the notice painted boldly above the door: Free beer tomorrowfor anyone who missed it yesterday.

It made me smile, in spite of my anxious musings. Of course, you would wait forever for your free beer, but it was a nice thought. It was actually more than a nice thought. It was an invitation to live in the present moment. It shook me out of my reverie and reminded me that the here and now is the only reality, but that in fact I spend most of my time and energy anticipating the free beer (or, more often, the problems) that might come tomorrow, or fretting about the opportunities I missed yesterday. For a moment I could have sworn that a star was twinkling right there over that run-down pub on the edge of Exeter, while the first of my Magi murmured, And wouldn’t that be just the kind of place God might choose for an incarnation?

The train was on time. That was a minor miracle in itself. It was very full, but I managed to find a seat. I immersed myself in a book, savoring the rare luxury of time to read it, and gave little thought to the passing landscape. A couple of hours into the journey, for no apparent reason, I suddenly felt the urge to put the book down and look at the world outside. To my astonishment, there, bold as you please, was a huge white horse, carved out of the chalky soil and offset by the lush green grass of the surrounding hillside. These artifacts exist in various parts of the British Isles; I knew that. But I certainly didn’t expect to see one right there in the middle of nowhere, easily visible from the train. I stared at the equine work of art, and in just a few seconds it disappeared from view behind a range of hills, never to be seen again. I realized that I had had my unscheduled glimpse of it in just the few moments when it was visible from the train, and I felt unaccountably grateful, both to the people who had carved it, and to the God who had prompted me into awareness at precisely the right moment. And the second of my Magi whispered in my ear, Discover the wonder of the moment, and know that unguessed-at beauty lies just below the surface of everything and everyone you meet.

We trundled on to Reading. Another change and another train, northbound. Across the aisle a well-dressed young man settled in, and, almost before we left Reading station, he was fast asleep. At first I took no notice, but after we had passed a few stations, I began to wonder whether he might be at risk of sleeping beyond his destination. At Birmingham he suddenly woke up, asked me where we were, seemed satisfied with the answer and went back to sleep again. I marvelled at his ability to relax and let himself be carried. But I also noticed that the ticket he had left lying at his side was issued to Crewe. I made a mental note to wake him when we reached Crewe, but again, I needn’t have worried. He woke spontaneously and alighted without a care in the world. And the third of my Magi smiled and asked me: Can you risk being so childlike in your trust? Can you fall asleep in God’s arms and entrust yourself to God’s guiding of the journey?

Three gifts. Three glimpses of a deeper wisdom. Three little epiphanies. But the real miracle is not that there are epiphanies along the way, but that the way itself is a continuous epiphany, waiting to reveal something of God’s love and God’s grace in every step, if we have eyes to see the moments of wonder and ears to register the whispers of wisdom with which God waits, continually, to gift us.

Margaret Silf lives in Staffordshire, England. Her latest books are Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living and the Catholic Press Association award-winning The Gift of Prayer.

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