Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, sometimes called
“Little Christmas” or the “Feast of the Three Kings.”
On this day, we hear the story of some magi, or wise men, that came from the East to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews. A star led them to Herod.
Naturally, they stopped by King Herod’s palace, for they imagined he would know where they could find this new king since he was a king himself. Herod, however, knew nothing about this so-called king, and the news troubled him greatly. His scribes and chief priests told Herod that such a king had been predicted through the prophet who had written, “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
After secretly meeting with the magi to determine the time of the star’s appearance, he told the magi to come back to let him know where the newborn king was so he could pay homage also. But as we know, Herod had no intention of honoring the newborn king, for later, he committed genocide against all male children age two and below to destroy the newborn king.
In the story, the magi gave the Christ Child three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Traditionally, the Church says the gifts represented Christ’s kingship, divinity, and eventual death.
After their visit, they left by another route because they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
The epiphany story is interesting in itself. Much has been written about the star that guided the wise men and also the meaning of the three gifts they brought. But usually overlooked is the dream that led them to avoid Herod. And the role dreams played during this time cannot be avoided. We heard recently how God sent a dream to Joseph telling him to take Mary into his home, and we heard how God sent Joseph another dream when he was in Egypt, telling him to take the Holy Family to live in Nazareth.
Today, we explore the concept of dreams, for they often play a big role in our spiritual lives. First, however, let’s look at the fascinating legend of the dream catcher, which comes to us from Native American Indian folklore.
Many Native American Indians believed that the night air was filled with passing dreams, both good and bad. Therefore, they made dream catchers. To make a dream catcher, one takes a hoop. Inside the hoop, one makes a web. Often feathers are put on the bottom of the hoop so they hang down. Then, the dream catcher is hung either over the sleeping person or close by their head, and the dream catcher must be swinging loosely for it to work.
When bad dreams pass through the dream catcher, they get tangled up in the web. When the sun comes up in the morning, the rays of the sun destroy the bad dreams. The good dreams, however, know how to avoid the web of the dream catcher. The good dreams know how to gently slide down the feathers and enter into the sleeping person.
Out of curiosity, I went online to one of my favorite sites – Amazon.com – to see if one could purchase dream catchers. Sure enough, there is a wide variety of dream catchers for sale!
Now before discussing dreams, it is helpful to distinguish between two types. One type of dream refers to the various images, thoughts, and sensations that we have while we are sleeping. We have no control over this type of dream.
The second type of dream is often referred to as a “daydream.” When we have a daydream, we become lost in thought or preoccupied. When we have daydreams, we often imagine the possibility of doing something in the future.
Now when we discuss dreams in the spiritual life, we are primarily discussing daydreams, not the nighttime dreams. Here are three things to keep in mind.
First, although we hear how dreams led St. Joseph and others in the Bible to take various vocational journeys, it would not be wise for us not to use nighttime dreams as the definitive course of action for our vocations. God sends us enough clues while awake to make rational decisions about his will for us.
Second, of all the ways God talks to us, I don’t believe any is as important as our daydreams or desires. Fanaticizing about a way of life is often the greatest indication that that is what God is calling us to do or be. When we have a great desire to follow a vocational path, we then should follow up to see if God has given us the needed qualifications for that calling.
And third, we should always have a “Plan B.” Just because we believe God wants us to follow one vocation does not necessarily mean we are qualified. Perhaps we lack the necessary facility in the subjects needed to be in that field. Perhaps we have passed the entrance age. Maybe there are other reasons we cannot follow a particular path. The important thing to remember is that we can be holy persons – saints – by living honorable lives in any vocation. It is the person that makes holiness, not one’s occupation or relational status.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on our own daydreams. What kind of dreams do we have for our future? Do we have the necessary qualifications to make them happen? Is that what God wants for us?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of the Epiphany, 2017.
Story source: Anonymous, “Dream Catcher: History and Lore,” Dream-Catcher.org, 2016.