frodoToday being the proper feast of the Epiphany, when we celebrate the three wise men who followed the star to worship baby Jesus at Bethlehem, I’ve been reading various interpretations of the events.

Some folks say, “This is all about the light of Christ coming to the Gentiles.” A progressive New Testament scholar says there’s no historical basis in the stories, but they mean the light of Christ is available to everyone. Just sort of “Look within your heart of hearts and there you will find a star you can wish upon…” Blecch. Others say the meaning of the story is that the scientists, academics and innerleckshuls of all sorts need to be humble enough to fall down and worship the Christ child.

OK, but the meaning of the story that most appeals to me is that it reminds us that life, and especially the spiritual life, is all about hearing the call, seeing the light and then setting out from your homeland and your comfort zone to go on the great quest.

This is the pattern of the hero’s quest: First you are in your ordinary world. This is your comfort zone, your home, your family. This is where your set ideas and worldview reside. This is where the hearth is and your heart is, but you are a hero so while you love your ordinary world you also know that you must get up out of your easy chair and follow the star and head out. You have to leave the hobbit hole and leave the Shire in order to save the Shire.

Next you hear the call to adventure. You see the star. Something happens to shake you up and make you realize that you have to set out and take a risk and search for the treasure or destroy the ring. You have a great task to undertake and you had better consider it seriously. The three wise men must have considered it before setting out. Could they make such a journey? It was just “the worst time of the year for a journey. The ways deep and the weather sharp.”

Then the third stage of the hero’s quest is that the hero refuses the call. He says “No. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. Not me. I want to stay home.” This feels bad, but it is good. It is good because if the hero doesn’t take the quest seriously then he’s a fool, and likewise if he refuses the quest he is also a fool. By refusing the call the hero takes the threat and the risk seriously and this makes him find the resources to make the quest a success.

So the fourth stage of the journey is Meeting the Mentor. The Mentor is any person, resource, skill, technique or technology that the hero needs to begin the quest. The Mentor provides the reason for the journey, the destination of the journey and the map for the journey. The mentor is usually a wise old man (think Gandalf) because he represents wisdom, knowledge, power and he is often a magician because something special is needed for the journey–some special grace from above for the journey is not just a holiday or a trip, but providential quest through which great things will be accomplished.

Finally, equipped by the Mentor the hero sets off. Frodo shrugs on his backpack, slaps Sam on the back, picks up his stick, pockets the ring and sets off. The Wise men saddle up the camels, pack the precious gifts, consult the maps, gaze at the stars, rally their guides and set off to find the king.

This is the pattern for life. This is what the spiritual life is all about. This is what it means to be a disciples of Jesus Christ. He says, “Come now. Leave your fishing nets and follow me on the great adventure.”

Do not be deceived. This is not a way. It is the way. You cannot be one of the baptized without going on the adventure. Sooner or later in one way or another in youth or in age, in triumph or through tragedy you will be called to go on that great adventure.

You will have to leave home and love the kingdom more even than your family. You will have to trek through the wilderness to the promised land. You will have to follow a trail that is full of danger and uncertainty, you will have to follow the star not knowing exactly where it leads, but trusting that it will lead at last to the House of Bread, the Christ child and your heart’s home.

Image via Bing