Don’t let your encounter with God leave you untouched!

Since it is Christmas time, I'd like to share with you one of my favourite poems and discuss the meaning of it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and find a little bit of the hope of the Christmas miracle inside this poem. 

Don’t let your encounter with God leave you untouched!

"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, sore-footed, refractory, 
Lying down in the melting snow. 
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
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, 
…..And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon 
Finding the place; it was (you may 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. 
 (shortened version)


I would like to dwell on some aspects of this beautiful poem. It describes the journey of the "Wise men from the East" towards Christ and thus, symbolically, towards Christianity.

Many critics parallel the Magi's journey with Eliot's own journey in search of "satisfaction" in Christianity. "Journey of the Magi" focuses on the affirmation of Christ that comes from the Magi's journey towards faith through birth, death, and rebirth, a journey that parallels Eliot's own struggles with his faith, not uncommon from my own. 

The dawn they speak of, is the nativity and all the ideas of the dawning of a new era, the empty tomb of Easter, as well the image of the Second Coming and the return of Christ from the East. The Magi's dawn arrival is symbolic of the new life attained from their penance. 

The "three trees against a low sky" is a reference to the crosses of Calvary (the Crucifixion). It also implies the spiritual truth of the future (the skies lowered and heaven opened.)

The old horse is symbolic of the death of paganism under the onslaught of Christianity and the old dispensation that will fade away with Christ's birth. 

The birth of the new era involves the destruction of the old. The Birth the Magus saw, began the death of his old world, old life, but did not, with the same certainty, give him anything new. The Magus is therefore alienated from everything 'in the old dispensation'. The Magi are caught in the middle between birth and death, moving towards the center of the Christian mystery, where death is the way to birth through Christ. 

Elliot, just like the old Magus, knows the difficult road one must travel in a spiritual pursuit of faith against those who scorn along the way. This leads to alienation and a feeling of powerlessness in a world that has changed.

The journey becomes not only a physical movement towards Christ, but also the first step in the Magi's spiritual progress as they truly regret their previous spiritual stasis. This spiritual journey takes us in search of perfection, but in order to obtain perfection on a higher level, Christ's death is the only way that satisfaction can occur. 

This narrator is someone who is world weary, reflective, and sad. He asks, ". . . were we led all that way for Birth or Death?" The birth of the Christ was the death of the world of magic, astrology, and paganism. The speaker, recalling his journey in old age, says that after that birth his world had died, and he had little left to do but wait for his own end. A witness to historical change who seeks to rise above his historical moment, a man who, despite material wealth and prestige, has lost his spiritual bearings. 

Even though he could never be the same after witnessing Jesus’ birth, he could never embrace this encounter and accept Jesus, completing the birth/death process in his own life. Because he could not break a hundred percent with his old life, he could not move forward with his new life. This caused him to feel dead, in fact, he wishes to die. 

His old beliefs were just too much for him to give up, but not enough to take this feeling away. He died sad and unsatisfied


DO NOT let an encounter with Jesus leave you untouched. If you have the opportunity, embrace it completely, so that you can have that satisfaction and fulfillment. If you hesitate or decline, you might not get another chance, and you will forever wander in this abyss between search and satisfaction.

One person who embraced it, and gave up everything he believed in after his Godly encounter, was Paul. Do you remember the remarkable things he did afterwards? There are books devoted to his life. What a legacy! This way, you can die in peace, knowing you have fulfilled your purpose.

You may never get that opportunity again....

(some notes taken from Nancy Hargrove, R. D. Brown E. F. & Burgess, Brian Barbour)

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