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Hallo again to all.

'A cold coming we had of it', TS Eliot's Journey of the Magi famously begins. It ends some four short verses later, a poignant reminiscence of an old, worldly-wise king who saw his salvation and was never again satisfied with his life. While meditating on his long-ago journey, he had a good deal to say about the conditions of his travel. Had he been a reviewer for a Zagat's guide, woe betide the inns and restaurant of his trip.

A terra-cotta painting of the Three KingsThe season of Epiphany is reasonably described as being about light, understanding, and, well, travel. On the first two aspects, we're all quite clear. There's no need to explain to most Anglicans 'what the Epiphany is about'. We're astute about the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and the reason for the journey of the king-scientists*. But travel? If the Average Anglican were interrupted on the street and asked about the theological meaning of the travel of the three kings, we suspect we'd get blank stares. We twenty-first century folks — at least those of us who live in developed countries — take ease of travel as a given. We may grumble about airport security or long queues, we may be annoyed by train delays or crowded coaches, but we expect to arrive at our destinations having accomplished our trip quickly and in relative comfort. It's easy to forget how recent a phenomenon this is. For most of human history, travel was nasty, brutish, long, and dangerous. The Koran requires of Muslims a journey to Mecca as an act of faith — the Hajj; until recently it was not something the Islamic faithful were certain they would survive. Safe and speedy travel was four our three kings a hundred generations in the future.

Since actual journeys were difficult and dangerous, they were seen as good literary metaphors for the Christian life itself. Dante's Commedia and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are amongst the best known of the genre, but there are all manner of examples. No-one for most of history expected travel to be smooth and effortless; no-one expected life (a journey from birth to grave) to be other than fraught with troubles, detours, and perils. Journeys taught patience, and life was a journey.

A monorailIt seems to us that in our time we have lost much of that patience. We grumble at mishaps and misfortune too easily, becoming snarky and cynical about much that surrounds us in our lives and in our church. We throw up our hands far too easily. We snap at fellow travellers who have different points of view from ours, striking out in a hurtful email or an angry letter to the editor.

We don't do well at being patient, waiting in confidence and hope, trusting in the Lord. We want it Our Way. And we want it Now. We'll take an Epiphany journey of 90 minutes, thank you very much, on the most direct flight possible. Which journey is more real? Ours? Or that of Balthasar and his companions? We're planning to think on these things as we pack up and store the nativity set this year, carefully wrapping tissue paper around the travel-weary kings and their camels.

In this New Year, we hope you will join us on the road in slogging on, singing all the while, not demanding that the journey be shorter or easier or unnatural, and getting to know better our fellow travellers.

See you next week. Godspeed!

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Last updated: 8 January 2006

*Okay, astrologers, if you prefer the older term for scientist.

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