Empty Yourself, Respond to Everything

First Reading : ( Is 60:1-6 ) : All people will behold your Light
Second Reading : ( Eph 3:2-3, 5-6 ) : All people will share God's grace
Gospel : ( Mt 2:1-12 ) : The wise men came to adore
Chinese Classics
“You must concentrate your attention. Do not listen with your ears, but with your heart; do not comprehend with your heart, but with your vital energy. Vital energy is an emptiness that is alert and waiting to respond to everything.”(1)
“Watch and contemplate everything and you will understand.”(2)

Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage... On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mt 2: 2, 11 )

Epiphany was formerly called the “Feast of the Three Kings.” Scripture says only that “some wise men came from the East” They may not have been kings, nor were they necessarily three. On the other hand, maybe they were kings and maybe there were three! They had seen an unusual star and they especially came to worship the new born Saviour. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh with which to adore him. A traditional interpretation of the three gifts is that the most precious metal, gold, acknowledged Jesus as King; the frankincense, used in worship and with smoke ascending symbolized our prayer arising to God's throne, and recognized Jesus as God; and the myrrh used to embalm the dead, acknowledged Jesus as a true human person who can suffer for us.

Recognition, adoration, offering - this is a three-fold action, three steps in Christian worship. All three must be present before there is a complete act of faith. If we recognize God and acknowledge Him as our Lord, then we will surely worship, adore and serve Him. If we worship and adore Him, then we will surely offer ourselves to Him; if we offer ourselves, then we will also offer all that we have: our time, possessions, talents, love. We offer our entire selves, we live for Him, we struggle for Him.

They saw the Star and they came to adore Him. Surely there were many others who saw the star, but only those few came searching. Why? Perhaps some people never look up to the heavens, or some look only close by, or they look and see but do not react. Truly we seldom look with attention. Have you ever looked closely at the sky? Have you ever looked long and attentively for one minute at a flower, a cloud, a mountain, a piece of grass? Have you ever looked with appreciation at your loved ones, your parents, friends, teachers? Do you pay attention to the gestures and expressions of the people who brush past you on the street? Have you ever entered into the state of “watch and contemplate everything and you will understand”(2)?

Are you aware that God is in the midst of all creation, that Jesus is present in the least of our brothers and sisters? St. John's words are truly worth our attention: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”(Jn 1: 9-10) Perhaps we do not accept God because we are not aware of His presence.

Awareness is the first condition of love. When a student is totally intent on playing ball on the court, he probably is not aware that a fellow student is standing alone on the sidelines. He wants to play but no one invites him. The first student can't reach out to the one standing alone, or care for him or even pay attention to him, because he hasn't even noticed that he's there. He is totally unaware of his schoolmate.

At the time of the Epiphany the Saviour actually revealed himself to the Gentiles, that is, those not of the Chosen People. But there are many people who have never accepted God Incarnate. Non-Christians do not accept Christ. Believers too sometimes do not accept him. Do we truly accept him? We are baptized, we take part in the Eucharist, we pray, read Scripture - is that the same as really believing in him and accepting him?

Chuang Tzu taught us that when we listen, “do not listen with your ears”, but “listen with your heart”. Our ears may hear incorrectly so we should listen with our heart and contemplate the true meaning. But Chuang Tzu immediately supplemented this by saying, “do not comprehend with your heart” but “with your vital energy” because our heart can be biased too. We may get confused or upset, and our heart cannot grasp true understanding. In times like that, we should “listen with our vital energy”. (Chuang Tzu, “The World of Men”).(1)

What is “vital energy”?(3) Vital energy does not mean circulation, as in 'chi-kung'(4). Chuang Tzu's “vital energy” is “an emptiness that is alert, waiting to respond to everything.” Being “empty” means possessing an open heart and mind, being humble, breaking away from prejudice, bias and persistence. The “waiting” is a kind of quiet, active, fervent anticipation. “Waiting to respond to everything” is waiting quietly with a humble heart. Only when we can empty ourselves are we able to enter into other people's lives, understand their words and feel their emotions.

This spirit of “waiting to respond to everything” is actually the most important condition in our encounter with God. Otherwise, what we encounter may only be the “god” of our own imagination and creativity.

In this time of Epiphany, are you ready to accept Christ? Let us call forth the state of “waiting to respond to everything” and wait quietly and fervently for Christ's coming and loving care.

(1) 毋听之以耳,听之以心;毋听之以心,听之以气。气者,虚而待物者也。
(2) 万物静观皆自得。
(3) 气
(4) 气功