Song du Jour

Song du Jour

Benedictine Thoughts, Teachings, and Prayers

Why the Magi Came from the Orient

January 7, 2013


Before we begin to explore the Magi, let’s sit down and enjoy a cup of tea from the Orient.
Once upon a time, there was a place in the Eastern part of the world known as China where tea was first planted; it was called “the Motherland of tea.” According to Hsing Yun, a Chinese legend existed whereby Shennung, the Divine Cultivator, accidentally discovered tea on or about the year 2737 BC. In the eBook: Buddhism in Every Step 29: Buddhism and the Tea Ceremony, Shennung only drank boiled water. As the legend goes…one day when Shennung was resting under a wild tea tree, a slight breeze stirred in the branches and caused a few leaves to drift gently down into the shimmering water that he was preparing. He found the brew deliciously refreshing and revitalizing, and felt that it had medicinal value. Tea was discovered!


Chinese historical research shows that tea was used much earlier than previously thought but the drinking of tea did not become popular until the fifth century. This was the beginning of Buddhism in China. Tea was prepared to stimulate vitality and strengthen the will so that the mind can remain alert.


Monastics have busy daily lives and after many hours of meditating, monks can become sleepy and unfocused. Tea is known for its ability to stimulate, refresh, and strengthen the will as well as hydrate the body. Buddhist monks and nuns offer tea as hospitality to their lay disciples and guests by serving them tea in the temple. So let’s sit back, enjoy our cup of tea. According to Edward Hays, “the tea is sipped in appreciation, little by little, and not cup by cup. Time is taken to taste the flavor, to enjoy the scent and to take delight in the cups themselves.”


When we think of the Magi, the three kings, we think of gift-giving. But actually, there were more than three wise men; there were twelve men. In Scripture, the Magi are referred to as a number of three men. In the Gospel, we are told that these unusually mysterious men came from the East. As Edward Hays states, “if these men had come from the West instead of the East, these men would not have been kings but rather professors and would have been department heads from different universities. Knowing our Western mentality, they probably would have sent a committee, an adoration committee who would have been composed of our most intelligent people. This committee would have proposed practical gifts for this poor family that was living in such dire poverty. The modern magi of the West would have come bearing gifts of boxes of groceries, warm clothing, and perhaps even a propane stove. As Western wise ones, they would have thought of something more useful than incense for poor people who are living in a barn. Instead of myrrh or perfume, they would have presented Jesus, Mary and Joseph insulated underwear. In our Western way of thinking, practical gifts would have been given.” But, the first Magi were from the East and not from the West…they were wise men and therefore men of wisdom. As Edward Hays points out, “the East as a civilization, is much older than the West, and perhaps understands better the briefness of our mortal life.” The people from the East try to enjoy life as much as they can because they know just how short life can be. We do have to think of practical necessities such as: a home, heat, water, food and clothing. But we also have souls and a heart that need attention as well. So today, in our holistic philosophy of mind, body and spirit, we need to think of the inner and outer needs of ourselves. Wisdom teaches us that it is our entire bodies that we need to be aware of…not just isolated parts. Hays, believes that “Moses was one of the magi in history. Jesus quoted the image (singular of magi) Moses when he said, ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ (Luke 4:4). The three magi: Casper, Melchior and Balthasar understood the wisdom of Moses, for it was the wisdom of China, India, and the entire Orient.” We would be so different if we could make wisdom part of our thinking. Our necessities include bread, but we also need the humanities of art, music, poetry, drama, and dance…we need beauty. Our daily necessities of life will not bring happiness. Just as I spoke of the veiled mysteries during Advent, our happiness is veiled and hidden in the unnecessary and it is there that our hearts and souls are satisfied. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh seemed impractical but for kings who were attired in jewels, they gave the infant Jesus their best! The West needs the wisdom of the East to show us how to live simply and fully. If we only live to acquire material things, we may not live long enough to enjoy them. But if we live to enjoy all of the beauty God has given us in an immaterial manner of living, then we will be ready to live on earth and be ready to leave this earth when we are called. Tea drinking is a symbol of how life is to be enjoyed…a sip at a time.


Edward Hays states that “we should drink in life, sip by sip, with thoughtfulness and an open heart until slowly the inner significance sinks into our hearts.” Hays tells the story of an old Jesuit priest who was on retreat. He was reading a book of poetry when another priest walked by and saw what type of book he was reading. The other priest paused and said, “Father, that book will not save your soul.” The other priest looked up, smiled, and replied, “Yes, I know, but it will make my soul worth saving.” We need special things like art, music, poetry, sunsets and teacups to make our souls worth saving. The daily wisdom that we can learn from the magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and perfume, is that there were other gifts that they brought with them such as: an Eastern sense of spiritual enjoyment to be had in this lifetime which is so short.


The customs of the Eastern part of the world exemplify a common courtesy of consideration for the feelings of others and this is why the magi came from the East and not the West…they came to teach us how to exhibit gracious behavior in bowing, adoring and showing reverence to one another. The word, “magi” means magician. The magi did bring a bit of magic to the stable in Bethlehem…their gifts of gold, incense and perfume added a sense of glad tidings, joy and beauty to the humble venue. O come, let us adore Him! Amen.


 PS: Three Wise Women


You do know what would have happened if it had been three wise WOMEN instead of three wise men, don't you?


They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.


Art: taken from


“That in all things God may be glorified”

Sr. Jo-El McLaughlin, OSB



Blog Stats

  • Total posts(34)
  • Total comments(8)

Forgot your password?