J.A. DICK. Christmas 2019

The message of Christmas is our New Year’s challenge: to believe and to act on our beliefs. We believe that truth is stronger than fake political rhetoric and falsehood. Being a bully is destructive and demeaning. We are all our neighbours’ brothers and sisters, even when community harmony is difficult to achieve and maintain. Our human climate is threatened. The survival of humanity — everyone’s human dignity and worth are at risk. Yes our ongoing challenge this Christmas and in 2020.

Once again, I send my Christmas and New Year’s greetings with a reprint of T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi.

My fascination with the U.S./British poet began some years ago, when I was a junior in high school. The poem was Ash Wednesday, written by T.S. Eliot shortly after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism. Here Eliot focused on his own spiritual journey. I was becoming aware of my own spiritual journey back then….Eliot once commented that he had a “Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage, and a Puritanical temperament.” (I thought well I am the product of a “mixed marriage.” I have a solidly Catholic education and formation, my father’s critical mind, and his Protestant DNA.) In college I was fortunate to meet Eliot’s friend, Robert Sencourt, who gave a lecture about Eliot and his poetry. He also gave more insights into Eliot the believer.

I owe the inspiration for my blog to lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem Little Gidding: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams once remarked, “Eliot never wanted to present religious faith as a nice cheerful answer to everyone’s questions, but as an inner shift so deep that you could hardly notice it, yet giving a new perspective on everything and a new restlessness in a tired and chilly world.”

In a tired and chilly world, may we all find and share new and life-giving perspectives…..

The Journey Of The Magi by T.S. Eliot

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 kicking 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.-

J.A. Dick’s Christmas reflection was first published on his website, Another Voice, December 20, 2019.

Dick is a retired American theologian at the Catholic University of Leuven. He has taught and lived in Belgium for many years.

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