I hoped to wake up on Epiphany morning with a final fascinating dream to spool out into meaning to carry into my year, but the moment I woke the cobwebs of sleep were swept aside, and the dreamscapes dissipated.
Here is a poem I wrote a couple years ago for Epiphany, about Old Befana, the Epiphany Witch from Italian folklore. In the stories, Befana takes good care to sweep and tidy her house every day, and tends to get caught up in all that needs to be done in the mundane world. One day, three strange characters come through her village. They are dressed in colorful and sumptuous robes. They’re riding camels. They carry with them gold, and frankincense and myrrh to give to a king they seek. They have seen portents in the sky, a star they believe they will lead them to this king, this Christ-child.
Befana hosts them in her humble house for the night, bustling about, cooking and cleaning and sweeping in all the corners. In the morning, when they begin the next stage of their journey, they ask Old Befana if she would like to come with them to seek the Holy Child. She can’t make up her mind, can’t decide, can’t get ready. There’s just so much to do, so much sweeping! And before she realizes what has happened, their caravan bells are just whispers in the distance. And suddenly, Befana knows that she must go along! She MUST catch that caravan! She grabs her broom and ties her scarf around her neck, and races after them, but she’s too late! She never catches up.
It sounds like such a story of loss and missed opportunity, and it is, but it’s also about what happens next. Old Befana dedicates the rest of her life to finding the Holy Child, flying about the world on her broom, listening for the bells of the Magicians’ caravan, sweeping the cobwebs from the sky, seeking the Christ-Child. On the way, she offers treats and gifts to all the children she passes.
So it’s a story about missing the holy and the magical and the sublime because we–like Old Befana–are too focused on the daily details in front of our faces. It’s a reminder to look up and out and stay aware for the Holy Visitors. But also a reminder that we can give our lives to the beauty of seeking the holy, and bless others with the gifts of our search. Each one we meet just might lead us closer to the Holy Child.
La Befana: Epiphany Witch
by Beth Weaver-Kreider
She’d got her eyes fixed
on what was right in front of her,
the dust and the dirt
and the everyday mess.
Wanted to be ready
for the coming of the child
but couldn’t see beyond
the day she was in.
Believe me, I know
what the old one
was up to–and I don’t
sweep and dust–
but I too get caught
by the fishhook of the present,
stuck in the nextness
of each task ahead,
forget to lift my eyes
to see the shine and sparkle
of my arriving guests,
can’t put down my broom,
my pen, my daily rhythm,
to look up and outward.
Like Old Befana, I catch, too late,
the jingle of the caravan bells
as they turn the corner in the distance,
see the disappearing cloud of dust.
Hastening to grab my cloak and bag,
I’ve lost their trail before I reach
the distant corner, left behind,
bereft, alone, dust-covered,
traveling bag in one hand
and broom in the other,
destined to spend my life
sweeping the skies,
chasing down the Holy Aha.
1. I’m still so happy about having two working toilets in this house of four people. I know it’s a luxury that many people don’t have, and I don’t take it for granted. In our lives, with a teenager who likes to stay up quite late, and then putters around in the bathroom in the middle of the night, creaking the floor and sometimes humming, it’s better for our sleep. And no more yelled negotiations at the bathroom door when one person has an urgent need to go and someone else is still in the shower.
2. Reminders to keep looking for the Holy One, even in the mundane moments.
3. The work of spinning and weaving, mending and healing.
4. A friend of mine is gathering data and ideas for a dissertation, and asked me to be something of a guinea pig for a project that includes taking photos and writing about mindfulness in my teaching process. I love doing things like this, and of course it’s like a little professional development retreat in the middle of it all.
5. All the people who seek Goodness, who follow the distant sound of the caravan bells, who clear the cobwebs that hinder clear vision of the Truth, who tend to each child along the way as though they are meeting the Child of Light.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“Epiphany. The light floods in. The eyes open. And open again. See. See further. Aha!” —Moonbat, ‘14
“With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” —William Wordsworth
“A Woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.” —Maya Angelou
“In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.” —Phil Ochs
“The sense-making in poetry is about getting behind the brain. A poem is a door. Sometimes poets make sturdy, locked, exclusive club doors that you can only enter if you are one of ‘us,’ or if you can speak (or pretend to know) the password. A really good and satisfying poem is an open and inviting doorway that frames the view in a particularly compelling way. ‘Look!’ it says. ‘Stand and stare. Take a deep breath. Then tell me what you see.’
“Good poetry, I think, holds a paradoxical perspective on language itself: it acknowledges the inadequacy of words to completely map an inner geography, and it also steps with reverence and awe into the sacred space that language creates between writer and reader. Words are both inadequate and holy.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
“Where does despair fit in? Why is our pain for the world so important? Because these responses manifest our interconnectedness. Our feelings of social and planetary distress serve as a doorway to systemic social consciousness. To use another metaphor, they are like a ‘shadow limb.’ Just as an amputee continues to feel twinges in the severed limb, so in a sense do we experience, in anguish for homeless people or hunted whales, pain that belongs to a separated part of our body—a larger body than we thought we had, unbounded by our skin. Through the systemic currents of knowing that interweave our world, each of us can be the catalyst or ‘tipping point’ by which new forms of behavior can spread. There are as many different ways of being responsive as there are different gifts we possess. For some of us it can be through study or conversation, for others theater or public office, for still others civil disobedience and imprisonment. But the diversities of our gifts interweave richly when we recognize the larger web within which we act. We begin in this web and, at the same time, journey toward it. We are making it conscious.” —Joanna Macy
“In a time that would have us believe there is always more to strive for, more to accumulate, more enlightenment to reach – the most radical stance we can take is enoughness.
What if we quit trying to be spiritual and aspired to be human instead?
What if there is nothing to fix because we are already whole?
What if there was no time to prove ourselves, because we’re consumed with marveling at life?
What if there is no reason to hold back our gifts, because they are meant to be given?
What if every morsel, every glance, every moment and every breath is a miracle of enough?” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” ―Joseph Heller, Catch 22