From a journey that was all haste and hurry; the goal clear, we turn to one that took time, and involved half-knowledge and frustration: the journey of the wise men. The uncertainty and sheer hardship of the journey are beautifully brought out in T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi which begins with the well-known words:
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey.”
Regretting the comforts they have left behind, they find the “camels galled, sore-footed, refractory.” Perhaps we can sympathise at this time of year when we have to go out shopping or visiting or even to church, when it is cold and wet, and it is we who are sore –footed while the buses and trains are indeed refractory.
But our faith journey can be like that, too: a long time, seeking – well, we think we know, but the truth often seems elusive and meanwhile we are struggling along, wondering, doubting. Like Eliot’s wise men, we may experience “the voices singing in our ears, saying that this was all folly.”
The wise men, however, come down to a temperate valley; and now we begin to notice the Christian imagery with which the poem is full; some clear to see but other mysterious, and we debate and wonder: again, so like our faith journey and so like our own journey towards the celebration of the incarnation – the sheer hard slog of preparation, and then the times of warmth and clarity.
Yet still, even when they have found the Christ-child, the wise men do not find peace. Oh, they would do it all again – but they are still questioning:
“. . . were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?”
There was a birth, but they had thought birth and death different, but this birth was “hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our Death.” They return home, but no longer at ease; they have been changed. In Matthew’s account, we read that the magi returned home another way, a phrase that has always fascinated me as having a deeper meaning than merely taking a new road. They – we – are changed by our encounter with Christ; perhaps the easy answers we have held close for so long will not do any longer; perhaps as we mentally approach the stable, we have to be ready to let go of former preconceptions. It will be different for each one, for each meets with Jesus as we are and at a particular time in our life.
The magi, and Eliot’s poem, are comforting to those of us who are of a questioning nature. There is room by the Christ-child for each of us, no matter how hard and reluctant has been the journey.
Spend time reflecting on your ‘journeys’ and thank God for walking beside you, or even carrying you from time to time.