“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. “
(T.S. Eliot “The Journey of the Magi”)
“Home by Another Way” artwork by Jan Richardson
The Christmas Story holds an allurement for the human heart that never seems to fade. It is deceptively simple in its plot and characters: a young couple, exhausted, make a long journey by decree of a far-off Emperor. Unable to find lodgings in an inn, they take shelter in a stable, warmed by the breath of animals. And there the young woman gives birth to a son. They are visited by shepherds who have been minding their flocks in the fields nearby. Suddenly the story takes on mystery: these shepherds tell a tale of wonder: angels have appeared in the fields singing to them of the child’s birth, urging them to go to find him….
And then, sometime afterwards, a trio of guests arrives. These are men of royal bearing from the Far East, and they tell a stranger tale: “We have seen his star in the East and have come to pay him homage.” Opening their bundles, they lay gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before the Child. The story adds this line: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
As with so many ancient powerful tales, the truth of this story is within, and our hearts recognize its truth without having to seek proof of external elements. Great myths, like the dreams that sometimes appear in our sleep, carry treasures that we can unpack for ourselves, as we ponder them in our hearts. To do this, we must enter into the tale, find ourselves within the story, experience it as though it were happening now, and we are part of the tale.
In “The Journey of the Magi”, the poet T.S. Eliot offers us an intimate look within the hearts of these three mythical Eastern Kings, describing their journey in “(t)he very dead of winter.”
Where might we find ourselves today within their part of the Christmas Story? For those of us now in the icy grip of a North American winter, the weather is familiar, as are the hazards of travel at “the worst time of the year.” If our December journeys were made to celebrate the Feast of Christmas with family and friends, we might say even our purpose is aligned with theirs….
Let’s go deeper. Before the Feast of Epiphany, I happened to wake in the deep heart of the night. Some sound drew me to my window. Looking out, I saw a starlit sky shimmering with such brilliance in the absence of moonlight or city glare that my breath stopped in pure wonder. Though I could recognize Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, the uncountable number of bright stars made me ask HOW those ancient travellers identified the one they were meant to follow….
Now that question has become my own question: the one so many of us are asking at this crucial time in our planet’s history when there are so many paths opening, so many possible routes…
Somewhere in the Universe my question was heard. Since then, stars have been separating out from the overall pattern, placing themselves in my path. By chance, I came across these words of Joseph Campbell:
If you are going to act on the basis of what you know, you cannot just hold onto your knowledge. You have to translate it into a movement.
That same evening, on CBC radio, I heard an interview with a researcher and teacher of English Literature at an Independent University in Barcelona. She has just received a two million euro grant to study forgotten writings of women from past centuries. Asked about emerging themes, she said the writings “demonstrate a very keen understanding and search for spiritual meaning in life”: Why are we here? What is our relationship to divinity? The women writers were convinced of the connection between their life and spirituality. “They have an understanding of spirituality which is very intimate.”
Joseph Campbell’s words stayed with me sparking ideas, raising questions: “What is the knowing I act on?” The answer came that we each carry within us a guiding star, as does all that exists in the Universe (guided, as Dante says, by the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars). Our task is to learn to recognize and follow this inner star. This requires time, intention, deep listening and grace. I knew with greater clarity that this is the purpose of my work: assisting people to find and follow that inner star within them.
For my own journey, guidance has come through a deepened relationship with a Sacred Presence, a true co-creative partner in all that I do. This mysterious Friend is an aspect of the Sacred Feminine, the Sophia Presence of the Hebrew Scriptures. In dialogue with her, I have been shown the pathways to choose. This story is still unfolding for me, and it is my deep desire to invite others to find their own Star within and to follow it into joy and wisdom.
We must follow it with courage as well for Eliot’s poem has a less-often quoted ending:
“The Wise Ones” artwork by Jan Richardson
But set down This set down
This: were we lead all that way for Birth or Death?
There was 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.
Yes, we must be prepared for radical change on our journey, for loss of comfort “in the old dispensation”. From the glimpse I have had so far of the journey to new life, I promise you it is worth the cost