The Divine Journey


Matthew 2.1-12 (CEB)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.” 

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, 
by no means are you least 
among the rulers of Judah, 
because from you will come 
one who governs, 
who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy.

11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

This story speaks to the heart of what it is to be human. Like the magi (a hereditary Mede priesthood), we are explorers. We are happy to make a discovery by one route and return home by another, for there are things to learn along the way.

From the time we could walk any distance without being eaten by a wild animal, we started exploring our world. Out of Africa, we spread across the entire globe, cataloging everything we discovered and preserving it for future generations. We astonished our children with stories of travelling vast distances and drawings of exotic animals. First orally, and then, after we invented writing, in manuscripts, codices, and books, we recorded our experiments. We discovered tools, cooking, building, reading, math, medicine, and philosophy. We created civilization.

We have been exploring for over 200,000 years and still, we wonder why we’re here and what the point is, if any, to being alive. We seek deeper and more meaningful answers to our existential questions by sending mechanical magi into space in hopes of meeting other seekers of truth. We still follow the light of the stars and hope they will guide us to God.

Like the magi, we are all on a spiritual journey toward oneness with the Ultimate Light. I have come to consider that our purpose as human beings might be as the explorers we so naturally are. What if we are all on a journey of discovery for God? What if being, and all the things we learn and do throughout our lives, is part of an infinite array of information gathering for God, the meta-consciousness of all realities?

What if we are God’s Magi?

Let me tell you why I’m pondering this. First, it helps to know that the Magi were akin to the high council of the Persian empire. They were profoundly religious and created Persia’s civil laws based on their religious ideas. The Magi were also solely responsible for choosing the next Persian king.

So, it is a delegation of Persian kingmakers, most definitely travelling with a caravan and all the oriental pomp and circumstance of the era, that go to see Herod. That they were seeking a Jewish baby was significant and rightfully threw Herod into panic. Rome and Persia were not the best of friends, Herod was getting old, and anti-Roman sentiment was high in the region.

Yet, even as political motivations drove the Magi to Bethlehem, once they saw Jesus, I think their motive changed. War was coming with Rome sooner, not later (in fact, it would start about three years after Jesus’ birth). A baby wasn’t going to help them. Yet, still they bowed, offered gifts, and worshiped the presence of the God they knew so well (Daniel was the only non-hereditary Magi, and Judaism played an important role in Persian religion and culture).

As so often happens on a long journey, the Magi discovered a new path that enticed them to veer off in a completely new direction--not returning to Herod, but instead heading right toward God.

I’ve been playing a videogame lately that embraces the idea that the journey is more important than the goal.

No Man’s Skyis the first game in many years that has completely captivated my imagination, and for one simple reason: the only point to the game is to explore the universe. That’s it. There is no evil overlord to eliminate, there are no enemies (although some of the animals can be aggressive). It’s you and your spaceship and an endless, procedurally generated universe.

Without getting too geeky, procedurally generatedmeans the game uses math to create everything in it every time you boot up: planets, plants, animals, minerals—each galaxy has a unique fingerprint, and each planet has unique flora and fauna. Most video games are pre-programmed. Everything in the world is created by artists and there is a fairly straightforward path through the game, with a series of goals the player must complete to move on.

This is not so with No Man’s Sky.

You begin the game with a spaceship and a portable multipurpose tool for mining elements like carbon and oxygen, or metals like copper and silver. Most of the game is spent travelling around planets, scanning flora and fauna, and cataloging itin a galactic compendium that anyone playing the game can see. It’s fascinating, gripping, and compelling.

The joy of discovery present in the game is just awesome, and the first time you enter your spaceship and fly out into space the effect makes you feel like a little kid in a Spielberg movie who just saw an alien for the first time. It’s simply magical.

The game is so good, in fact, that I convinced my brother who hasn’t played video games since our Atari 2600 days (“more than one button is crap!”), to give it a shot.

He’s now almost 200 hours into the game.

The other day he and I were comparing notes about our No Man’s Sky journeys, and I found the conversation an interesting metaphor for the spiritual journeys the Magi traversed, and we all undertake as well.

My brother and I play the game very differently. He collects and stores things. I travel lightly and often. He has about 20 ginormous cargo freighters, which he keeps organized in a list on his phone. I have two freighters I recall now and then when I feel like sending them out on missions. Otherwise, I move around the universe, gathering as I go whatever materials I might need to keep the ship flying or to do something interesting (there are lots of alien artifacts strewn about). Every now and then I report into a space anomaly that loves to examine and study all the data I bring it.

Interesting concept, yes, bringing the space anomaly data?

Because of our different gameplay styles, my brother and I have had quite different yet equally fascinating experiences. Sharing those experiences with each other helped both of us think about new approaches to the game and revealed valuable information about some of the species we’ve met.

After we talked for a while, I realized that humans, in general, are sort of playing No Man’s Sky for God. Each of us is on a different journey. When we share our stories, we all benefit from one another’s unique experiences. And because we are literally the substance of God consciousness, every story in our lives is automatically shared with the  original explorer, God.

So, between the magi story and the joy of playing No Man’s Sky, I’ve been thinking that at least part of our purpose for being is merely to explore; to branch out and discover new places, people, and things. We innately find such joy in exploration. We are so drawn to the mysteries of the oceans and the vastness of space, perhaps there is a purpose behind our curiosity.

We are naturally inquisitive beings, 7.5 billion of us. I think that thirst for knowledge exists because we are an essential part of God’s process of becoming. We are God’s magi ,sent across universes and realities to live without boundaries. We exist—everything exists—to experience the wonders and mysteries of an infinite, procedurally generated reality. Living into that concept, my friends, fills every day with Spielbergian awe.

Amen.

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