As we move into the new year and celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, I would like to share with you a poem. TS Eliot wrote poetry in the twentieth century and experienced a powerful religious conversion that led him to embrace the Anglican Church. Around the time of that conversion, he published the following:
The Journey Of The Magi by T.S. Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
After describing the journey of the wisemen in vivid detail, Eliot remarks upon their return, to their old kingdoms and homes. We make this journey with the magi every year: anticipating Christ at Advent, celebrating His birth at Christmas, and singing of His revelation to all the nations at His Epiphany and Baptism. We celebrate the cycles of darkness and light, death and rebirth. But what changes within us or around us? Does anything in our souls transform to become more in the image and likeness of God? The birth of Jesus unsettles the magi from foreign lands once they have seen him. They cannot go back to their old ways and beliefs. They are “no longer at ease.” How has Jesus unsettled you this season? What within you has died by encountering Him, and how does it bring new life?