The Journey Of The Magi

The Journey Of The Magi
By T S Elliott
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.

Winter solstice with East Midlands Forest Church

East Midlands Forest Church have graciously allowed me to share these reflections from a Winter Solstice Ceremony they ran some years ago. I am choosing to publish it now in June, as while they are now approaching midsummer in the UK, we are approach midwinter here in Australia so it’s now that it’s more seasonally appropriate for us.
The Solstice is upon us. The sun has ventured down to the lowest point in the sky, bringing with it the shortest day and the longest of nights. It doesn’t get any darker than this. Since the Autumn Equinox back in September when we experienced the vitality and fruitfulness of nature’s finest mast year, the balance of power has been in the grip of the darkness. We have all experienced the chill of the drawing in of the nights and the gloom of the grey and misty morn.
The rhythms of the natural world around us have ebbed, its energy returning to roots and trunks, or towards hibernation for those animals whose bodies observe this pattern of behaviour. Yet other life continues, the evergreen hope of the holly, ivy, pine, fir, cypress, cedar and yew; the sound of geese and other birds who migrate here in search of shelter and food from their harsh homelands. Life goes on, but at a slower pace than before.
In all traditions, it is seen as a time of celebration, and rightly so, for on the Winter Solstice, the light will once more return, bringing along with it the warmth necessary to revive that which is dormant.
In the story of certain traditions it is the time where the Winter Queen reigns, where the fight in the wyld wood between the giants of leaves, the Holly and Oak Kings comes to a head, and the dark Holly King surrenders his crown to the lighter Oak King, to rule once more from now until the Summer Solstice. We are reminded that in the darkness, light has always been present, fighting valiantly, so that even the smallest light can never be fully smothered by darkness, and we know the promised cycle of the seasons will continue as long as the earth endures. Hope remains in that promise, no matter how barren the landscape, the land will be reborn every spring. Some even tell the story of Yule and the birth of the Sun God at this time.
In the Christ Tradition, it is a time for celebrating the incarnation of the Sun of Righteousness, the one of whom the ancient prophets spoke; the Divine Child of Promise, a child who brought hope, light and justice in a world of turmoil and darkness. His birth was announced in the skies in two ways. Firstly, a heavenly host of angelic beings to the lowest of the low, the shepherds in their fields at night, showing that the Divine is interested in those generally cast out by society. It was also announced by three triple conjunctions of the planets Venus, the mother, and Jupiter, the father, and the King Star, Regulus in the constellation of Leo, the Lion of Judah. It was an immutable sign, one which the ancient world marvelled at. Those in high places, who listened to the voices of the ancient prophets and opened their hearts to leading of the Eternal Spirit were moved to trek hundreds of miles in order to worship the Christ Child.
Like the sun moving down from its high point at the Summer Solstice, to its lowest at the Winter Solstice, the Sun of Righteousness moved from the highest heavens to this earthly plane at his incarnation. And from the highest ranks of the Magi, to the lowest outcasts in the shepherds, the Divine calls all humanity into deep relationship, regardless of our background or past experiences.
At this time where our very life breath becomes visible to us in the cold, may we give thanks for that breath each day, and may we seek the Light Eternal to illuminate our hearts, minds and spirits, that we too may walk in the light. May we remember that spell of the White Queen, that seeks to keep us ever in Winter, but never Christmas, has been broken so we can live in the hope of Immanuel, God with us.