No Longer At Ease Here

Thomas Goodhart Uncategorized 0 Comments

1502213_10152542182702825_4168071262626204885_oFor those in the tradition of Western Christianity the holidays are concluded with the observation yesterday of Epiphany. Oftentimes, the holiday season as a whole leads with celebration, it focuses on “comfort and joy,” it concentrates on “glad tidings.” And well the holidays should as there is much to celebrate.

 

Just as obviously, however, we are aware that the season of Advent and Christmas comes to us in the midst of the shadows of darkness that are so very present in our lives and the world. Sensitively—pastorally and theologically—we are aware that especially during a time of celebration and remembrance, with so much joy around, grief is mightily present too, thus all that more reason why the comfort is indeed so very much needed. We affirm: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.”

 

On Epiphany we commemorate the arrival of the magi lead by God’s star. We wonder at the mystery. We yearn for such leadings. We celebrate with the gifts they bring to Jesus and even, may worship and pay homage ourselves to the Lord. Liturgically speaking we generally do not pay attention to the rest of the story, the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod and the holy family’s escape to Egypt. It is in the background. It is present. But it is not our focus.

 

On one hand moving into the new year it is profoundly instructive to carry the light that God has brought into the world in Christ Jesus, the light of all people and to remember how strongly the light so shines and is not overcome. We may well be happy to clean up the tinsel and pack away the lights for another time but need to work at keeping our candles burning so to speak.

 

This Epiphany however has caused me to reconsider some of the comfort we move into the new year with. I read and listen each year to the poem of T.S. Eliot, “The Journey of the Magi.” I encourage you to read it as well, but also to listen in the link provided, to hear Eliot’s voice, the peculiar to contemporary American ears way he pronounces “magi,” his cadence and phrasing.

 

The Journey Of The Magi

 

‘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 kiking 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.

 

Do consider all the people we encounter through the narrative of scripture and wonder where did they end up? What ever happened to them? Eliot’s telling of the magi’s story, both leading up to and far later than the one we hear and sing about each year, well past the holidays and into the magi’s late life is so filled with…hope, still and a looking back kind of melancholia. But also a particular kind of angst, “no longer at ease.”

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.”

 

Comfort is important and our Reformed tradition certainly stresses where our comfort is found. But following Epiphany I can not help but to feel that like that wise man in his old age that our comfort itself ought to feel no longer at ease here. An uneasy comfort? I think so, both/and.

 

Eliot’s magi was no longer at ease. I wonder what that meant for the rest of his life. What did he do with that? How did it turn out?

 

And isn’t that really a question for each of us too? What does it mean for our lives? What do we do with it?

 

May God give us each a blessed Epiphany of comfort and unease.

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