“All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have 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.”
And are their thoughts ecstasy and enlightenment? No. Instead they say something quite peculiar. That this birth they have witnessed feels the same as death.
“I have seen birth and death, but had thought they were different.”
Besides loving the language, the poetry. I love the truth in this statement. Our faith is built on the idea of dying to self so that we may have new life in Christ. A birth and death and resurrection in one.
I’ve never imagined the wise men feeling let down. Feeling alien. Feeling out of place.
They have found what they were looking for, the destination they were seeking, but instead of bringing them glory and comfort and peace, they are left “no longer at ease” with their old way of life, with their old homes and old gods.
I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis that says, “All joy emphasises our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”
The Magi (and T.S. Eliot himself I assume) have experienced a joy so grand and so real and so marvelous that the “old dispensation,” the old beliefs, the status quo, cannot hold the things they’ve learned. They are marked by the wanting of a new Kingdom. A longing for justice. The longing for love. They have seen in part and they want to see in full.
The part I think is beautiful, and what I think C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot were getting at, is that the presence of their longings points to the presence God. Both the image of a God at work within them and a God at work in the universe—stirring hope. Pointing to the fulfillment that is to come.