Journey | Wednesday, December 5
Scripture: Matthew 16:24-26
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
T. S. Eliot wrote “The Journey of the Magi” shortly after his conversion to Christianity. Told from the perspective of one of the wise-men reflecting back on his journey to Bethlehem, the poem catches Eliot’s own sense of disorientation that came about from seeing the world anew through the lens of faith. Notice how the tone breaks sharply at the third stanza, After the speaker encounters Jesus, everything once familiar is made strange. The birth of King Jesus is good news for the world but it can also be destabilizing. In Eliot’s imagination, it brings this Magus to the realization that the old order of things will have to pass away to make way for the one who is making all things new. Loss like this can be painful—it can even feel like death—but it is the only way to life.
“The Journey of the Magi”
T. S. Eliot (1927)
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, sore-footed, 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 in 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 arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may 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.
Silence for Reflection
• In what ways does Eliot’s poem help you see something new in a familiar story?
• How have you experienced loss as a result of following Jesus? How did the pain of that loss help draw you closer to him?
• Think back upon a time when you had a deeply spiritual experience. What were the circumstances surrounding that experience? Describe the transition back into your ordinary routine.
• How are birth and death contrasted in the final stanza?
Prayer for the Day:
Lord Jesus, the light of your coming has transformed our sight. Help me to see this day that it is only in surrendering to you that I may be free. Only in dying that I may awaken to the new-life you promise. Grant me the grace to release the things I cling to that keep me from following you with a whole heart. Instead, open my heart that I may welcome you.
 Eliot, T. S. “Journey of the Magi” Selected Poems, Harcourt Brace, 1930, pp. 97-98.
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