C. F. Malone
Hometown: South Bend, IN
I do not recall the first time my dad took me on our Magi Walk, and I know that it was not always my favorite holiday tradition. However, many years’ worth of memories containing starlit wanderings with treasures tucked under our arms and surprising conversations with strangers – wise and foolish alike – have cemented the Magi Walk at the top of my list of “favorite holiday traditions” – just squeezing past pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving morning.
What is a Magi Walk? It was many years before I realized that such a tradition was not as ubiquitous as leaving cookies for Santa Clause. The basic idea is to honor the journey those three wise travelers made so many years ago across the desert sands to Bethlehem. Scripture tells us the men were overwhelmed with joy at seeing the Infant Christ, laying before Him their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. My father – always a man of detail, a man who sweeps not just the center of the room but into the very corners – has long carried with him a fascination with these so-called magi. Who were they? Why did they follow a star for so long? How did they decide what to bring with them to the baby king? Who or what did they encounter along the way? These questions drove my father to institute the Magi Walk, which is taken yearly on the night before Epiphany by himself, yours truly, and occasionally my little brother as well.
We decide what is most precious and useful to us (“the baby Jesus has no need of your sentimental trinkets!” would annually ring the cry of the man who keeps in the house absolutely zero sentimental trinkets). One year I wheeled along my bicycle; once my dad took a set of plates and silverware for four; and my brother has often carried with him his favorite book from the past year. Then we simply eat a hearty bowl of soup, bundle up, and venture out into the night. “Find the brightest star!” my dad will say, and we’ll crane our necks looking for any visible star between the skyscrapers encircling our city home. Sometimes there are many visible on that night (“the brightest! the brightest!”) and sometimes the clouds allow us just one tiny speck of light (“then that’s the one, kids!”); once spotted, we agree upon our guide and are off. Along the way, stories are shared: “Name a person the meeting of whom changed you this year”; “where was one place you were surprised to find yourself?”; “where are you journeying with your heart of late?”. These are the sorts of questions that are discussed as we journey along. And where are we going? Of course, we do not think we actually will meet the star at its resting place. No, but we do believe – that is, my dad firmly does, and my brother and I mostly do – that we will encounter the Holy Infant on our walk. So we just go. Once the man was taking shelter from the rain in a doorway and told us stories of his wife and kids back home in Paraguay. The mother was one year waiting for a bus with her three-year-old boy, Ivan, having just come from visiting her father in the hospital. This year we walked for three hours before we saw him, 16 years old and smoking pot under a tree in the park. He said his name was “Laces”.
I used not to be able to understand how my dad would know which person we were supposed to stop for. Slowly, year by year, I began to get it. I would see the signs. The slowing of my steps, almost unwilled. The flutter of my heart when they would look up at us. A warmth would spread across my chest as we would walk toward them, whoever they were. And deep in the center of my soul I just knew. There were signs. And always we would hand them our treasures – sometimes everything went to one person, and sometimes we met more than one Infant Christ – and they would somehow have a use for precisely the thing we had brought. How we found the one old lady whose kitchen fire had just left her without dinner plates or utensils, I will never understand. And we would talk with them, sit with them, and wait with them for a while. And always, always, we would leave overwhelmed with joy. And always we met them– we meet them, as we walk, following the star.