Star of Wonder, Star of Night

January 6 marks the Epiphany and the 12th day of Christmas. I took this picture a few weeks ago at the ranch and it made me think of the Star of Bethlehem and the wise men following it. Matthew is the only one of the gospels to mention the wise men, but it’s a pretty interesting story. Of course it took them a while to get there, a year at least. So that business about them showing up at the birth is not quite accurate, but it makes for a livelier manger scene, wardrobe-wise.

Sun and trees at Rancho La Zaca
This star happens to be the sun, shining above our beloved oaks at Rancho La Zaca

Here is an explanation of Epiphany from About.Com/Christianity, if you’re interested.

At Calvary Episcopal Church in Tarboro, NC, where I grew up, the Epiphany celebration was called the Feast of Lights, and the distinguished trio of Bud Shook (the insurance man), Mahlon DeLoatch (the banker), and Hyman Phillips (the lawyer) dressed up in the Tarboro interpretation of royal Persian finery and marched down the aisle one by one  holding their gifts for the baby Jesus.

Seriously, until I was about 12 I thought they were real kings. They were very grand, and each sang his respective gold, frankincense or myrrh verse of  “We Three Kings” and the congregation sang all the other verses.  Everyone lit candles at the end and slowly processed out of the dark church. It was magical.

My mother told all of us to shussh about 72-hundred times. It’s hard to keep quiet when you have a real king marching right past you, let alone three. But my cousin Gray took the admonition to extremes and about a week later was still whispering. So much so that the kindergarten teacher Mrs. Heindrich called her mother worried about the child’s subdued voice. That had to have been a first.

Cousin Gray is soft-spoken, and a star of wonder, to this day, but she might get that from her mother.

Now I have built the whole thing up to where I have convinced His Grace, not exactly a Churchgoer of the First Order, to come with me this afternoon to St Mark’s in the Valley in Los Olivos  (sort of a California Tarboro) to see what the fuss is about.  He is going to want to be one of those kings, I just know it.


  1. Frances,
    You never cease to amaze me. You do everything with such style and yes, amazing grace. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with all of us.
    Happy New Year.

  2. What beautiful pictures! And how right you are about the Feast of Lights at Calvary, the beauty of the season, and stars of wonder in two Grays! I love keeping up with you on your blog. Thanks

    1. Mary Jane! It is good to hear from you – and thank you so much – pillar of Calvary that you are! Love, Frances

  3. Happy New Year to You and Tom
    I’ve always been fascinated by the Magi and the surrounding stories..contemporary thought had the Magi as priests of the Zoroastrian faith…a Persian
    monotheistic belief who were accomplished astronomers
    and had seen the Star(perhaps a quintuple conjunction)……However new thought has them as Astronomers coming from Northern India perhaps the Punjab and the journey could have lasted 5-6 years and they must have arrived when Jesus was a young Child….the Gold gift was used by Joseph to obtain passage to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to Flee the wrath of Herod……TMS

    1. Dear Tom, thank you so much for writing. I, too, am fascinated by the Magi and think their story would make such a great movie — albeit one rife with speculation. It is my understanding that they would have been astrologers as opposed to astronomers as astronomy did not exist then – but perhaps the terms were used interchangeably in that era? This is likely a whole ‘nother can of worms… But the larger point some make is that the Magi, who they were, where they came from, what they believed (or not), is all meant to convey the inclusivity and universality of the consciousness the Christ brought to earth. I had not read that about Joseph using the gold to hot-foot it outta there. Cool.

  4. Just got home from church, myself! We have a big oil’ bonfire outside before we process into church with our candles and our priest alwàys gets dangerously close to the fire in his “flowing “vestments. It’s all about the light–one of my favorite services, too!

  5. Errrrr, that’s big ol’ bonfire— I hate auto correct–it thinks it’s smarter than me…so presumptuous.

    1. Ha! I hate auto-correct too, Hazel. Thank you so much for writing, and for the bonfires, oil’, ol’, and otherwise. x F

  6. Dear Frances,
    I have become quite a fan of yours. Your stories put a smile on my face everytime that I read them! I love sharing them with my family.
    Being the daughter of a peanut farmer…well I just adored the little peanut in the manger!
    When I visit Windsor, I frequently have lunch with those that I thought were the wise men as well! Ha. They are just a little bit older but much wiser I am sure.
    Happy New Year to You and His Grace!

  7. Frances,
    I was shocked to see you were raised in Tarboro, NC. For whatever reason, I have a huge number of visitors on my blog from Tarboro. I didn’t even know the place existed until it started showing up on my stats. From what I have read it is a fairly small city. Needless to say, I have been fascinated by Tarboro. Maybe you could share some insight with me!
    All the best,
    Leslie Wood

  8. no wonder i love you dearly. i could say so many wonderful things about you as well. what a privelege to have known you before you wandered away and became oh such a bright light in the big world. love you lots- gray one

  9. One of my favorite stories is “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke. It was made into a beautiful movie. When I read it to my students while I was teaching in parochial schools, I always had at least one student who was moved to tears at the end of the reading. I also had students who asked in which book of the Bible the story was located. Since my birthday is the fifth of January, Epiphany has always been close to my heart. I loved your story of the three kings!

    1. Thank you for this, Diane. I have heard of this story but not read it. Now I will. Happy Birthday and love, Frances

  10. I, too, was there at St Mark’s and experienced the Epiphany celebration. It was a first in my long church-going life. Guess the Methodists and Congregationalists didn’t do the 12 day trek and boar’s head feast! It was a wonderful pageant and meal and the precious children will find it very memorable. Delightful!

    1. Darling Renee, it was a first for my husband as well, and he loved it! Wasn’t it great?! Thank you for writing and I was so happy to see you, F

  11. Next year we can certainly include the Fourth King at St. Mark’s in Los Olivos. in fact I have put in an order for a royal outfit in a size to suit His Grace. I wonder what he brought to the manger just so we can write a verse for him to sing. He has plenty of time to practise. It was such a time of wonder and delight last Sunday. Ao glad you were there.

    1. Thank you Nina Kate, this is an excellent suggestion and we will take it under advisement. We loved being there, too.

  12. What incredible photos! Glad you convinced “his grace” to join you @ St. Mark’s,sounds like you are keeping him busy and out of trouble! Happy New year. Tom’s “younger” cousin, Sylvia Sue

  13. Frances,
    Thanks so much for the trip back to our childhood. What an awesome description you gave of our Feast of Lights service and pageant! You are so right. Bud Shook, Mahlon DeLoatch and Hyman Phillips all three truly made their parts come to life for all of us. To this day, I have not seen a service that comes close in replicating the magic we felt being at Calvary Episcopal in those days.
    New Years blessings to you and yours,

    1. Dear Gus, it is so good of you to write and good to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to write and for your kind words. I love how this post touched something in many people who “got it” and connected with their own memories and their own “Tarboro’s”. Best to you, Frances

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