T.S. Tuesday: Journey of the Magi Pt. 1

It’s finally happening. I’ve finally branched out from the Four Quartets. Today’s evocative Eliot comes from his poem “The Journey of the Magi.”

I ask your forgiveness in advance because I’m going to mix some Eliot with some Salinger. My brain has been fully marinating in the delightful details and philosophical forays of all that is Franny and Zooey and, despite my efforts at purging, I just can’t seem to let him go. Plus, I think it’s pertinent, at least tangentially.

I’ll start by sharing the first of three stanzas of Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi.”

(This will be a three-part post, FYI. If you’re the type who likes to read ahead, you can view the poem in its entirety here).

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was 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.”

As the title suggests, this poem is about the journey of the Magi, the three wise men, to see the Christ child. Magi sounds far off and mystical. Like there has to be robes and camels and ancient wisdom involved in seeing this newborn Messiah.

But that’s not true.

We are all pilgrims. We all have the makings of a wise man or woman.

As a fellow pilgrim and aspiring wise woman, I’ve been thinking a lot about this journey. And what the final destination will be.

What’s the point? Why put up with the hostile towns and dirty villages? Why be called a fool?

What is it about seeing this Christ child that makes the arduous road worthwhile?

What is it that this SEEING will do?

The answer I have come to currently is the answer given by Zooey, in Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

Which, ironically doesn’t require a physical journey at all, but a journey of perspective. A paradigm shift.

As Zooey tells his nervous-and-religious-breakdown-ridden sister, Franny, there is something about Jesus, this Messiah that the Magi, sleeping in snatches and traveling across deserts ventured to see, that can’t be found in any one else:

“Jesus knew — knew — that we’re carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look? You have to be a son of God to know that kind of stuff.”

“I can’t see why anybody — unless he was a child, or an angel, or a lucky simpleton like the pilgrim — would even want to say a prayer to a Jesus who was the least bit different from the way he looks and sounds in the New Testament. My God! He’s only the most intelligent man in the Bible, that’s all! Who isn’t he head and shoulders over? Who? Both Testaments are full of pundits, prophets, disciples, favorite sons, Solomons, Isaiahs, Davids, Pauls — but, my God, who besides Jesus really knew which end was up? Nobody. Not Moses. Don’t tell me Moses. He was a nice man, and he kept in beautiful touch with his God, and all that — but that’s exactly the point. He had to keep in touch. Jesus realized there is no separation from God.”

God is in EVERYTHING. Including us.

This is the seeing and seeking that I wish to attain. To see the I AM in me, in my coworkers, in my friends, in my enemies. This is the pilgrimage that enthralls and propels me. 

This is the destination that keeps me voyaging despite “the voices singing in [my] ears, saying That this was all folly.”

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