"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey"
It's January 6th as I write this - the traditional twelth day of Christmas, the day that Christians celebrate the coming of the Magi from the east to recognize the Newborn King, the Son of God born as man, the Lamb who would be the final perfect sacrifice. Here we are on our pilgrimage. Look at the Magi - where did they come from? where are we going? We're on the long journey of life, and tis a long cold journey indeed. It's so easy to get bogged down in the cold moments and think of only the bad times.
"The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
All too often my soul is in winter, beset by the daily problems which seem to deep for me to get out of alone, and cold spiritually, prayer dry, not sensing the True Holy Ground underneath it all.
"There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet."
Do I really want to do the work involved? It's so easy to think of good times from before, to live in the past. It's easy to think of my belly, by relaxation, or others (and not in a good way, but as objects to satisfy my appetites.) That's not what I'm called to do. That's now what I'm called to be.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong 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.
I'm called to love others. But what we get in return! Others wanting their appetites filled, things going badly, people throwing us off or taking advantage of us or otherwise making life difficult. It is a struggle to stay on pilgrimage, to keep going.
"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."
Isn't that a common feeling? Prayer is dry, nothing works, and life seems to go on and on and on without end.
"Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;"
There are times when it seems better. Are they illusory? What really matters? Sometimes we need the comfort that He gives us, and He gives us a place to rest easy. But does He intend for us to stay there?
"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."
It's all too easy to fall in with the wrong group, to go the wrong way. We can get trapped in our addictions and there are those who would gladly keep us there for the company.
"But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory."
May we all find the Place in our lives. It may not be what we expect!!!
"All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death."
My favorite part of the poem is the third stanza. It reminds me that to truly be alive in Him, I must be dead to myself, dead to others. And it is hard work.
"We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods."
We are always to be travelers, pilgrims, passing through but not at home here. Our home is elsewhere. Which is why, in the end, when the time is right and the work done,
"I should be glad of another death."
we come home.