T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" has been one of my favorite poems since 12th grade when my Dad read it to me at the dinner table one night, recommending I use it for a project in my literature class. I did, and I have returned to it over and over again...the magi come to me in Advent, during Lent, in dark times and in moments of light when I am converted all over again. Tonight, the lights came on. It was a little conversion, a little reminder of why I have faith in all I do.
I was reading--just 5 minutes ago--for an assignment. My task is to choose a poverty-reduction strategy, come up with an impact evaluation and make a solid case for both. I have chosen land transfers to poor black farmers, and will frame my essay with a discussion of post-apartheid inequality. I've read many articles on the subject, but the one in particular just happened to use a phrase Eliot uses in his poem--the old dispensation--to describe the system of unjust land distribution that continues to plague South Africa. The landed rich minority and the un-landed poor majority are stratified across an uneven landscape.
At the end of their treacherous journey, the magi find the baby Jesus. They witness the miracle of birth, a birth of Eternal Life Proportions. But there is a death, also, their own death, death to former ways of being. The old dispensation has no place in this little baby's kingdom. Justice and peace require us to die to our old ways of being, and it ain't easy. But damn it's good. Even if we just practice a little bit, it's good.
That's all I'm gonna say about that. I hope the little connection speaks to you, too. If not, then connect with me. It's easy, just close your eyes and imagine me sitting in my desk, glasses on, bare feet, broccoli in my teeth, thinking of you. Thanks for reading my blog and praying with me.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was 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 silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong 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 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 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.