The Annual Reading of Eliot

Epiphany brings with it an annual personal tradition. I leaf through my second copy of an old Longman poetry anthology (the first has been read, loved, and written on into non-portable fragility) and find T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” settle into a quiet corner of the couch with a mug of good strong coffee, and read his words outloud–feeling the journey in the rhythms of syllables, hearing it in the musing reflection of one of the Magi.

There are parts of the poem I now know by heart. This evening, I text-messaged a friend and in it asked if he knew the poem. All he had to do was begin his response to another question with “A cold coming home…” which told me that he did. This idea of knowing by heart has come to me in spades this Advent and Christmas. I told someone this morning that reading the lectionary these weeks has been like flipping through a family photo album, remembering stories and events and the assortment of characters involved.

When we look back at pictures, we do not recreate the event as it was. We come to it as we are when looking. So too these readings of people walking in darkness and seeing a great light, tales of people arriving to celebrate the baby and bringing gifts of homage (and licorice! Bottom drawer of “my box” in Amahl and the Night Visitors), the record of Word becoming flesh and glories streaming from heaven afar. I recognize people, settings, events because I have met them all before, known something of the journey, and witnessed what I understand as the wonders that flow forth and have as their origin the Heart of God. I have also seen death…and understand something of the confusion experienced by Eliot’s Magi.

It is a mystery in heart that can only be borne by a knowing by heart. Snatches and snippets are memorized, but the story lives full and wondrous, revealing and ever revealed.

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