Tuesday, December 19, 2017


The Biblical story of The Wise Men is an interesting one. It’s a story very rich in symbolism and meaning.

There are some who would question whether any man can truly be said to be wise. I have an interest-based opinion on that matter, so I will express no view, except to say that although the Biblical account of the story refers to the persons as ‘men’, there may well have been at least one woman among them. But does it really matter? No.

The Bible does not say there were three of them. That is simply an assumption, in light of the three gifts presented to the Christ child—namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh. I will have more to say about those gifts shortly, but even if there were three wise (wo)men, one of them may well have presented two gifts with one of the others presenting the third gift. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.

We are not told the names of the wise persons, although church tradition tells us that their names supposedly were Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar. Although at least one church tradition says that the wise persons were kings (Melchior being a king of Persia, Balthasar a king of Arabia, and Gaspar a king of India), the Biblical narrative does not say so. They may have been rulers of Arabian states but it’s more likely that they were magi, wizards or astrologers and, so it is said, members of the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. Suffice to say that these people were on a journey—a journey in search of truth and wisdom. They were following a star—and no ordinary star at that.

So, we have the image of wise men following a star, attending upon the birth of someone famous, and presenting gifts to the baby. This, my friends, is the stuff of myth and legend, but that does not mean that the story is not true. Myths are not not true. Myths have their own level of truth and meaning, and this story is no different in that regard. The births of other famous persons—real or imagined—were hailed by wise men or aged saints who presented gifts to the newly born. I am thinking of the Buddha, Krishna, Rama and Mithra, for starters.

The star was, of course, the Star in the East. Esoterically, a star symbolizes some spiritual truth, at first dimly perceived. The East is where God is. The source of all life, truth, power and love. The Star in the East is the morning star, the first gleam or dawning of truth. For some, for example, scientists, the star is the light of reason. We need such people in our world, now more than ever. There should be no place for superstition. For others, the star represents hope and aspirations. They are important as well. Others consult the stars for guidance in their lives. I see no evidence or good reasons for doing that, but that is just my view.

The wise persons were in search of something greater than themselves. Relying perhaps on a combination of intuition, insight, reason, knowledge and wisdom – the last two things are not one and the same – they knew that a great event was taking place in Judea. Furthermore, they were prepared to follow their star wherever it led them. Are you prepared to do likewise?

And what of those gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh? Gold symbolizes that the Christ child was a king; on a deeper level, gold represents the light of truth as well as the gift of wisdom. Frankincense denotes Christ’s divinity; on a deeper level, it symbolizes the sweet fragrance of sympathy, empathy, compassion, self-giving, understanding and healing. Myrrh is one of the spices used for burial and thus is a kind of prophecy of Christ’s death; more esoterically, myrrh symbolizes the love that sustains and heals. 

Some have interpreted the three gifts a little differently. For example, some commentators see the gifts as representing our three-fold human nature, with gold denoting our material (i.e. physical) nature, frankincense our emotional nature (i.e. our hopes, wishes and aspirations), and myrrh our mental nature (i.e. mind or intellect). However the gifts are interpreted, the really important thing is this—it is incumbent upon us to give of ourselves to others. We find ourselves to the extent to which we give ourselves away, in self-giving to others and to a cause or power greater than ourselves. Millions of people have found that to be true in their lives.

And what of the Christ child? Literal-minded Christians see that child as synonymous with Jesus—and he alone. However, I see the Christ child as denoting more than just Jesus. A ‘child’, in sacred language and literature, represents a spiritual idea or truth as well as indwelling power, potentiality and inner light. The Christ child, of course, is no ordinary child but represents our inner potential, our real self—what the Apostle Paul refers to as the ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27). The Christ child represents the person, as yet unborn, that you are nevertheless capable of becoming and being. When the Christ child is born in us, we awaken to our real self.

The birth of the Christ child takes place, not in the crowded inn of materialism and worldly values and opinions, but in a humble, receptive and childlike manger. There is so much meaning in that alone.

Once the wise persons had attended the birth of the Christ child, they returned to their country ‘by another way’. When a person has experienced a truly life-changing experience, in which they discover their real self, they are never the same again. He or she is permanently changed—for the better.

In summary, here are five important ‘lessons’ from the story. First, the wise (wo)men were wise because they were following a star, wherever it may have led them. Secondly, there is no limit to the number of people—men and women—who are capable of becoming and being wise. (In my view, that’s partly why the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were of them.) Thirdly, those who are wise bring forth gifts—parts of their own human nature offered in sacrifice and love to a cause or power greater than themselves. Fourthly, wise men and women are on a journey—a journey of self-discovery. Fifthly, once a person finds the ‘Christ child’, they always embark upon another way of living—a new and better way of living characterised by sacrificial self-giving, love, compassion and service to others.

May you have the spirit of Christmas which is peace, the gladness of Christmas which is hope, and the heart of Christmas which is love.




Thursday, December 7, 2017


Recent research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that mindfulness meditation is an effective antidote to the phenomenon of the worry of waiting, whether waiting for exam results, medical test results or whatever.

The research involved 150 California law students who had taken the bar exam and who were awaiting their results. There was a period of some four months between the exam and the date on which the results were posted online. The students completed a series of questionnaires in that four-month waiting period. During that waiting period the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week.

It was found that the practice of mindfulness meditation helped to postpone the phenomenon of ‘bracing’, which we do when we prepare ourselves for the worst. You may well ask, ‘What’s wrong with bracing? Surely, it’s a good thing to hope for the best while preparing yourself for the worst.’ I’m not so sure of that. If bracing sets in too early in the waiting period, most of us will start to worry … and worry … and worry.

Now, here's something especially interesting. The study shows that even 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practised by the participants, was found to be enough to ease the stress of waiting.

We all worry, some of us more than others. The English word ‘worry’ comes from the Old English word wyrgan and Old High German word wurgen, both meaning ‘to strangle, to choke’. When we worry, we strangle ourselves, so to speak. Actually, not so to speak, but well-nigh literally. Worry is very bad for the body, the mind and the spirit. People say, 'I'm sick with worry,' or 'I'm worried to death.' Do they really know the truth of what they're saying? People can literally worry themselves sick--and in some cases even to death. Corrie ten Boom wrote, ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.’ That’s so true, my friends.

The regular practice of mindfulness, as well as mindfulness meditation, helps one to accept, and not resist or fight against, our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and, as J Krishnamurti [pictured right] used to say, ‘On the acknowledgement [that is, acceptance] of what is, there is the cessation of all conflict.’ Got that? All conflict—whether physical, mental or emotional.

I used to think that whenever a negative thought—say, a thought of anticipated or feared failure—entered the mind that it was necessary to substitute for that negative thought a positive thought. That works for some people but it is not necessary to do it. Simply observe the negative thought. Give it no power. Don’t resist it. Just watch it arise and vanish, for it will not last long. Bracing yourself for the worst is generally advocated by Stoics—and it definitely has its place. When? Later. Don’t brace yourself too early, lest worry set in.

Journal reference

Sweeny K and Howell J L. ‘Bracing Later and Coping Better: Benefits of Mindfulness During a Stressful Waiting Period.’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017; 43 (10): 1399 DOI: 10.1177/0146167217713490