The Journey of the Magi
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the 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 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 downT
his 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.
For years January 6th meant Ukranian Christmas Eve in our family. My husband is half Ukranian and we are fortunate that it is his mother that is Ukranian. Fortunate because it meant, when she was younger, that she went all out with the meal Christmas Eve – all twelve courses.
Now, with the family moving away (from Vancouver to Halifax, from Saskatchewan to Texas) we are no longer able to gather on January 6. It is a loss but, on the other hand, January 6 has once again become a time to celebrate Epiphany. So, this Sunday the wise men will make their trek across our living room to the crèche. This year I placed the wise men in my “desert” arrangement. I don’t have sand but I do have rocks and candles as well as various wood carvings from Africa. I find it interesting that I did so because this Sunday’s visual will involve a container with sand and rocks (desert) and one candle in the centre (the star). I got the idea from Billabong.
As I was doing research for my sermon, I stumbled across T.S. Eliot’s poem printed above. I found out it speaks to Eliot’s struggles as he came to Christianity and the Anglican Church. There is much symbolism here as we all think of our struggles with faith. But for me, this year, the poem has some interesting insights as to what my little church faces.
We know that in 5 to 10 years, if things stay the same, we will be closing our doors permanently. We know that if we want to prevent this we have to start planning now. But it is not an easy decision. Come the new year we are entering into a visioning process with two other congregations of two different denominations to see if there is a future for us in shared ministry of some sort. I wish I could sell the process to my people by being all upbeat and paint rosy pictures of the possibilities. It is not that I don’t support the process – I do or I wouldn’t be promoting it. It is not that I don’t think some sort of shared ministry is the way to go – I do think that it opens exciting possibilities. It is that it is like going into any relationship – there will be times when it will be very rocky and desert-like and we will want to pull back. I also believe that if we persevere, we will find life.
What intrigued me about Eliot’s poem was the bit in the last verse where he writes: “Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” I think about that in the context of the people I am serving. They have come so far – we celebrate 100 years in just over a year, which I realize in terms of Europe is mere infancy but for rural Saskatchewan, that’s a good number of years. We are going into this process to see what it is that God desires for us. But in the process we will face death. We will face the death of the way we have done church for the last 100 years. We will, in all likelihood, face leaving our building behind. We will face no longer doing things entirely in what we have come to understand as Anglican. Our community as we know it will no longer be the same. We will have to start looking at and considering the traditions of others and how we can work together in those traditions which means leaving behind some of the traditions we have come to value. Regardless of whether we decide to go into some sort of relationship or not – we face death. But the death we face going into relationship is a harder death because our future is totally unknown – if we just shut our doors we know what the future is and once it’s done, it’s done. If we go into relationship, we will also be facing a desert time as we work anew to discover who we are.
And yet, should we decide to set out into the desert, we will be looking at birth. There are so many possibilities. There are things we cannot do now because we are aging and few in number. Our mission is vastly curtailed by lack of energy as we die. By joining with the other two congregations, we don’t necessarily become younger, but we do gain more energy. The three of us worship together once a month. The energy at that particular service is amazing. The things that we can do with the music and with other parts of the liturgy are exciting. And the things we learn about through our differences and similarities are life-giving and faith strengthening. We will be looking at the birth of a new community with endless possibilities for mission and future direction. We will be looking at the birth of new revelations of God in our midst and new ways of expressing those to the larger community behind us.
Birth or Death? Both and both are to be celebrated and mourned. But through both will come life, for at the centre of it all will be God and God’s light will guide us.
Love and Prayers,