Remember the last time you lost your way? Writer Natalie Angier told this story in an article she wrote for The New York Times, perhaps one we can all relate to:
So I’m walking down Lexington Avenue in Manhattan on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and I stop to admire a church that I’d never really noticed before: St. Jean Baptiste, on the corner of 76th Street.
I like its noble, neo-classical fussiness, its four foliated, white-marble pillars and two towers stacked with arches, columns, crowns. I dart inside for a look, gaze up at the painted dome, breathe in the rich, churchy air, and go back out to continue my walk downtown.
It’s warm; I’m thirsty. So after about 10 blocks I cross Lexington Avenue to buy a bottle of juice from a grocery. I drink the juice as I stroll along, and soon I stop to admire another lovely church. Four white-marble pillars, dome, double towers.
How can it be, I ask myself, that there are two such similar and ornate churches on Lexington Avenue, and that I, a lover of architecture and longtime New Yorker, hadn’t realized it? I run up to the entrance to explore this second interior, but stop short in horror when I read the sign: St. Jean Baptiste.
Holy déjá vu all over again! With considerable self-disgust, I reconstruct what happened. The simple act of crossing Lexington Avenue for refreshments had completely flipped around my sense of left, right, north and south, with the result that, after leaving the grocery, I had mindlessly retraced my steps back uptown.
Maybe you can relate to Natalie. Maybe you get easily twisted around and confused too. Maybe you are someone who is “directionally challenged.”
When it comes to trying to find our way, sometimes being directionally challenged can be easily fixed. Just turn on the GPS or a smartphone map app and do what it says. (Although, that’s not so simple if there’s a backseat driver in the car!)
Since the dawn of time, people have been challenged by navigating both the world and their lives. We’ll look to anything that we think will help us find our way. One of the earliest examples is sailors at sea using the stars. But sometimes the weather or life is stormy, and we can’t find the stars no matter how hard we look. Sometimes life is a disaster.
The word “disaster” comes from “dis,” meaning “no” or “not” and “aster,” which means “star.” Therefore a disaster literally means we have no guiding star. When that happens, we’ll often turn to things like money or attention or status to help set our life back on track. But, of course, they are unreliable navigators—things of this world that steer us in the wrong direction.
On Jan. 6, the church celebrates Epiphany, the time when the magi followed the star in the sky and came to visit the child Jesus:
“When [the magi] had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2:9-10).
Even though the story talks about a star in the sky, the real light is Jesus. He shines brightly to people of all lands—even outsiders like these magi.
Part of the beauty of the Epiphany story is that even when we are lost and confused, even when we lack a sense of direction in life, even when we aren’t sure where to go, the light of Christ still shines in our lives, guiding us and leading us.
The magi had no idea where they were going. They simply trusted the star to guide them. Idols may claim they can give us a sense of direction. But the only one who can really set our life on course is Jesus—and he is for all people.
When you feel twisted around, when you feel directionally challenged in life, when you aren’t sure which road to take, remember that the light of Christ shines brightly to guide even you, just like it did for those magi. Because of Christ, we’ll always have a star to guide the way.