Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany!
More than two thousand years ago, three eastern Magi followed a bright star and visited Bethlehem on January 6th to pay a courtesy visit to Jesus Christ, who had been born on December 25th in the previous year. On seeing him in a crib with his mother Mary, these Wise Men fell down and worshipped Jesus, offering him gifts, that is, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Thus, the day they found Jesus in a crib is called “Epiphany,” the moment of the revelation of God incarnated in the year of political crisis; Herod the Great of Judea, a cruel and tactful politician who served as a Roman governor overseas, attempted to kill all boys two years old and younger in the region of Bethlehem, fearing that the newly born king of the Jews might overwhelm and replace him in the future. Although Herod had originally required the Wise Men to report the savior’s whereabouts to him, they left Bethlehem without returning to Herod. Hence his slaughter of the babies. Thus, an angel of Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you” (Matthew 2:13). To put it simply, Christmas has no complete meaning alone; we have to be aware of a mystic continuum between Christmas on December 25th and Epiphany on January 6th, , as William Shakespeare described in The Twelfth Night.
In the third decade of the 21st century we are still enduring serious political crisis, especially the war between Russia and Ukraine that seems so devastating as to cause serious inconvenience to world politics, economics and lifeline. Just as Herod the Great desperately looked for Jesus Christ, Vladimir Putin frantically keeps transforming the theater into another slaughterhouse, by using every means possible for winning the war. Thus, even his proposal for ceasefire in Ukraine over Orthodox Christmas announced on January 5th, 2023, the day before this year’s Epiphany, seems to be part of the hypocritical tactics.
Does it mean that the Time of Miracle as predicated in the Bible was past? I do not think so.
As I indicated in Headmaster’s Voice #21, my birthplace in Tokyo, that is, my grandparents’ house beside a giant cherry tree in Ebisu, miraculously survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945. Consecrated on January 6th, 1959, the house still remains there, with a great granddaughter of my grandparents as the new owner.
On January 8th , 2023, at the Our Lady of Sorrows Church in White Plains, Pastor’s sermon very carefully intertwined the Epiphany of the Lord with what French scientist Louis Pasteur said in a letter in December 1851: “I am on the edge of mysteries and the veil is getting thinner and thinner.” Dr. Pasteur, the father of the Germ theory of disease gave an insight into the mysterious veil between religion and science.
Indeed, scientific progress promoted the Enlightenment, displacing the myth of the Virgin with the icon of the Dynamo, as is pointed out in Chapter XXV of The Education of Henry Adams (1907) in which the pious author describes the impact of the great hall of dynamos exhibited at the Great Exposition of 1900 in Paris. At this point, however, we should also note that Adams was simultaneously aware that the Dynamo might be a new Virgin in the early 20th century: “As he grew accustomed to the great gallery of machines, he began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross. … Before the end, one began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force.” Thus, it is highly plausible that the development of science and technology in the 21st century will lead us into not only the higher sphere of disenchantment but also the new dimension of mystery.
In this respect, I admire my favorite Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006), who closed his masterpiece Solaris (1961) with the belief that the time of cruel miracle was not past. Since this novel was made famous internationally through Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film adaptation in 1972, most of you might be very familiar with the original story. Lem’s novel beautifully narrates the encounter and confrontations between human scientists and the alien planet Solaris covered with an ocean of gel, which turns out to be a vast sentient being capable of communicating with human beings by means of reading the human unconscious and sending to the Solaris station “Visitors” in the form of one’s loved ones. While Lem himself attempted to speculate upon the possibility and impossibility of extraterrestrial communication from a hard scientific perspective, Tarkovsky reconsidered it as a kind of conversion narrative in which the protagonist Kris Kelvin, falling in love with a visitor who looks like his late wife Hari, undertakes to overcome his own trauma in vain; the original Hari passed away by committing suicide many years ago. Tarkovsky went so far as to foreground his religious interpretation by employing J. S. Bach’s chorale prelude “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesus Christ”(BWV639) as a theme song.
Of course, Lem hated this radically religious re-interpretation of Solaris. However, as Lem groaned under the tyranny of Nazi Germany, Tarkovsky left the Soviet Union in 1984 with a full resolve to remain in Italy. It is the political oppression that enabled both of them to envision a miracle, whether religious or scientific. Thus, I will keep rereading the last sentence of Solaris : “I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.”