The first king
The first king was on horseback. The second a pillion rider. The third came by plane. Where was the god-child? He was in the manger with the beasts, all looking the other way where the fourth was a slow dawning because wisdom must come on foot.
As we, like the Magi, approach the end of our journeying, there are here, for me, more echoes of Cavafy and Ithaka. The message here is that of Cavafy:
Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you’re old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
What makes us “rich” is the journey itself, a message Thomas has communicated to us in so many ways – wisdom does not come in a rush – we are the ones in a rush, like the “kings” in this poem. We are busy, busy doing, busy being helpful, important, busy being busy half the time. We do not stop and go down that narrow path to that hardly used old place of worship; neither do we stop to take in the wonders of God’s world.
For the turning away of the simple will slay them,Proverbs 1:32-34
And the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 But whoever listens to me will dwell safely,
And will be secure, without fear of evil.”
We are told that Wisdom, “Sophia”, was “established from everlasting”, from “the beginning, before there ever was an earth” (Proverbs 23-24) – just like the Word, who in the poem is Incarnate in the Manger. These “kings” seem more concerned with getting to the Manger – but what then?
In Eliot’s Journey of the Magi they are left with a sense of dislocation, no longer at home in their old world, but not yet in a new one. How often is our Christian journey like that?
I write from experience and hope, finally, to heave learned the lesson that Thomas offers us here. Much of the last decade was spent being busy and “helpful”, trying to “do my best” – and never asking “best for whom?” or even “by whose definition of best?” Four years ago it came to a shuddering halt, first with illness, and then with what I can only decscibe as a complete breakdown. But breaking down can be the prelude to building up – but first I had to get “better” – which largely involved learning to stop, how to stop, how to live in silence and to take in the world. If 2020 did one thing for me, it allowed me to take long, solitary walks on which I could pray my Rosary and just “be”.
The journey with Thomas has been a time for reflecting on how we might be receptive to Wisdom, who loves those who love her. It is in those quiet places, those places hallowed by prayer, those wild places, and above all, that place where we cease to be busy trying to construct a God in an image we can understand, and accept him as he allows us to find him.
Thank you, those who have read these reflections, I have profited much from reading what Graham Hart and Ruth Harley have been writing, and hope some of you have followed them too. Most of all I think, I’d like to thank Mthr. Carys Walsh for her selection and commentaries. R.S. Thomas is a fascinating guide, precisely because he refuses to guide us. He offers what he offers, and I hope that between us, we have profited and acquired some wisdom from this walk through Advent and Christmas with him. Maranatha!
There is an #adventbookclub using “Frequencies of God” by Carys Walsh and you can support the publisher by buying it here: https://canterburypress.hymnsam.co.uk/books/9781786220882/frequencies-of-god. We’ll be running this club on Twitter and Facebook, and you are welcome to join in with thoughts and comments. Other folk doing this are https://grahart.wordpress.com/ and https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/ so please pop over and read their thoughts too!