"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....
...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.
From The Journey of the Magi by T. S Eliot
The picture on the left is entitled "Divergent Paths" and the theme of having a choice of paths to follow is echoed in the picture above of the Magi, pictured with one star and three different ways to follow its beams. I don't know how you are feeling at the beginning of this New Year, but I currently do not feel that there is a clear path mapped out for me professionally or domestically for the year ahead as there perhaps has been in previous years: that's not to say I have no idea what is going to happen or that I have no plans and no hopes. Life just feels even more uncertain than it did back in March 2019...
Reading T. S. Eliot's poem, in particular his lines about birth and death and feeling "no longer at ease" has given me food for thought over this Christmas season. As we move into a different phase of this world-wide pandemic, I wonder whether now is the time for us to begin to think about the "old dispensation"; the "normal" that we are told that we will be returning to... "in weeks...", "in months...", "by Easter...", "by the summer..."
There have been many examples of altruism, community spirit and faith being worked out in all communities during the past 10 months, some of which were not there in "normal" times. There have been substantial changes to daily life for nearly all of us, some of which have been for the better and some of which have not. Over the coming months we are going to be faced with many more choices about what life in the United Kingdom in the 21st century is going to look like. These choices will not all be politically or economically driven, although some of them will be as we discover the reality of no longer being a part of the European Union.
For people of faith, there is a challenge of whether we return to the "old dispensation" with the danger that we shall do so through rose-tinted spectacles. Or.... shall we follow the example of the Magi who, led by God, returned by a different route – changed by their experiences to a "new dispensation" in which we face death and birth in their eternal dimensions?