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Monday, December 22, 2008

T: Advent Trio

Now we come to the letter 'T'. It is the...
Three Kings! Well, they may not be actually three but let us just go along with the known tradition of these famous 'kings' that came to visit the Christ child, following the star (which was shared in the previous entry) that led them to their destination. From them, came the well known gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now, I am not going into the known stories or legends about these three kings or 'magi' or 'wise men' as they are sometimes refered to. Instead I would like to take you on a little journey onto a less beaten track where the Three Kings could very well signify any one of us!...

This comes in a form of a lesser known poem of T.S Eliot, namely, The Journey of the Magi. Eliot wrote this poem after his conversion to Christianity and confirmation in the Church of England in 1927 and later published in Ariel Poems in 1930. It is an account of the journey from the point of view of one of the magi which carries with it, the themes of alienation and a feeling of powerlessness in a world that has changed. The poem, instead of being a celebration of the wonders of the journey or of creation, becomes largely a complaint about a journey that was painful, tedious, and seemingly pointless. The speaker says that a voice was always whispering in their ears as they went on, that “this was all folly”. The magus seems generally unimpressed by the infant, and yet he realizes that the incarnation has changed everything. He asks:
“. . . were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?”

In this poem, we can feel that the birth of the Christ was the death of Eliot's own world of magic, astrology, and paganism. The poem, in a symbolic way, highlights the recollections of Eliot’s own life that had, at one time, engaged in the primitive and the speaker may very well be Eliot himself.

The speaker can also be one of us. When faced with this question of what do we want to do with our lives, the difficulty of letting go our previous life to engage in a life which the Lord calls us to, becomes apparent. Sometimes when we do make that leap towards that conversion, it does not thoroughly brings about the hope of a new life for us, but instead merely tells us about the hopelessness of the previous life. So, we can become resigned rather than joyous, absorbed in the negation of our former existence but not yet physically liberated from it. Hence that line of question in that poem about 'Birth or Death'. Like the magus who questioned (were they led there for Birth or for Death? Or, perhaps for neither? Or to make a choice between Birth and Death? And whose Birth or Death was it? Their own or Another's?), we are made baffled by the apparent contradictions of it all, and left simply wanting to 'die'. Like the magus, we have reached the end of one world, but despite our acceptance of the revelation as valid (concerning our faith, God and conversion) we cannot gaze into a world beyond our own.

But all is not lost! One of the O, Antiphons which unfolded during this Advent has anticipated all this: O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. A similar rendition of this can be found in the 4th stanza of the famous Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The Advent preparation towards Christmas and the wearing or use of the penitential colors of purple in the liturgy during this period offers us this opportunity to reclaim our rightful spiritual heritage that the Christ child at Bethlehem wants to give through his birth. Whatever unease that we may harbour, let it be dispersed by the very Light that shines ever on, in leading us into our true, beautiful and authentic self ready to say, Maranatha!

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Here is some information on the Three Kings, whose relics are still available for veneration in Cologne, Germany.

Hodie Christus Natus Est!


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