As Epiphany approaches, Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler shares how her experience wandering in an unfamiliar place and pondering climate justice relates to the Magi’s journey to find Jesus.
Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler serves as the climate justice coordinator for Mennonite Church USA. An ordained minister and former pastor in Central Plains Mennonite Conference, she graduated from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Eastern Mennonite University. When she’s not connecting with others about creation care and climate justice, you can find her in her garden, tending her family’s flock of chickens, cooking up something featuring local and seasonal ingredients, or reading with her son and daughter. A native of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, she now calls Kalona, Iowa, home.
“… there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” — Matthew 2:9-10, NRSV
We gathered in the dark for worship, sheltered by oaks and poplars in Mosquito Hollow. We were cozy, as we huddled around the fire. Then Wendy invited us to wander and wonder in the dark and to expect to connect with Holiness.
Reluctantly, I turned away from the circle of warmth to consider the steep hill behind me. The shadowy, silent slope drew me, and I started to climb. The ground, covered with damp leaves, was slippery. I recognized the comforting, earthy smells of decay and trees and soil. I couldn’t see the ground well, so I stepped carefully, relying on my feet to feel the way. When I felt unsteady, roots and branches offered welcome support to keep me from falling.
When I reached the top of the ridge, I was breathing heavily, and my heart was pounding. I paused, noticing one bright star in the cloudy night sky. I realized with wonder that my initial reluctance to this nighttime trek had been transformed into energized JOY! The challenge engaged less familiar ways of navigating: intuition, feeling with my feet and legs and even smelling my way forward. And the reward was sure — an irrepressible, full-bodied sensation of exhilaration.
We were a group of pastors and church leaders who had gathered at Camp Friedenswald in Cassopolis, Michigan, to reflect on the complex spiritual, ecological, social and political challenges connected to climate change. As we re-gathered from our time of wandering and wondering in the dark, Wendy invited us to share how we had encountered God. I realized that, like my nighttime journey up the steep slope, the work of seeking justice and healing for our planet sometimes feels like a challenging trek through unfamiliar terrain. But along the way, God provides wise guides, like other people of faith, trees or stars, to bear unexpected gifts.
Each step of the way, God invites us to wonder, play and open ourselves to joy.
This week, we celebrate Epiphany, and remember the Magi’s journey in the night, along an unfamiliar path, guided by intuition, faith and a mysterious star. I wonder if the Magi felt reluctant to leave their warm, familiar surroundings, as they set out to find the new king promised by the star? Were there cloudy nights when the star was difficult to see? Did they pause to worship and play, even when their goal seemed far away?
Matthew tells us that, when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy — exhilarated! Was their journey complete? It’s not clear if they had arrived or if their goal was just on the horizon. I like to imagine that joy propelled their weary bodies along the last stretch of their journey, until they finally found Jesus and offered themselves and their gifts in exuberant worship.
As a New Year unfolds, I pray — for myself, the congregations of Mennonite Church USA and all God’s people — that we may have courage to trek into the unknown paths before us, as we seek justice and healing — shalom — for all God’s people and all of God’s creation. I pray that we will hear and accept God’s invitation to play, worship and open our lives to joy along the way. And I pray that we may be blessed with unexpected moments of exhilaration, too. May the joy of the Lord be our strength!
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