Beyond the Poles: The Journey of the Wise People

I’ve been wondering in this season of epiphany: do we always journey to return? Or is this only the privilege of kings, the powerful? Are we (the privileged) bound by roots, by homes, preoccupied with issues of security and identity in a world where displacement is a ruling sense for so many? How do we determine our bearings?
Journeying into the desert, into prayer, into silence, to the place in which we detach and unmoor ourselves from our trappings and our anxieties, is as essential as it ever has been.
The Kings (or Magicians, or Shamans – as some translators have it) chose to journey, to go where the star led them. Can I? Will I?
One thing striking about the story of the Magi is that they returned home on a different path. This is the part I’m liking the most as I roll the story around my mind these days.
The American poet, Mary Oliver, wrote about the challenge of beginning the journey of the heart.
The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice —

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do —

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 Journeying into the new year I aim, as I often do, to stay as conscious and awake as I can, to attend. I aim also to give and take my own sweet time (it is a gift one is easily tricked out of!) and to choose carefully in favour of the further flourishing of life where I can.
The poem–it’s Mary Oliver, how can you not love it?–raises a question that I wrestle with, along with many women, I imagine, and that concerns whose life you save. I intuit the poet’s truth that the only life you can save is your own. But then there is the mystic opposition (which I suspect defies the entire logic of opposition) of ‘forget self’ / ‘intensify self’ (you are nothing / you are everything). You have to lose your life to gain it. That kind of thing. The Holy Fool, as his mother had sung in her prophecy, turned things upside down. Made things interesting.
You move in the direction of the polestar because you have chosen to open your heart, because you have been chosen, and you can do no other. It is what you are called to do. And when you do, you find yourself inside a trinity (I’m no theologian, but this is irresistable!), inside that triple star in the constellation of the Little Bear, and you find yourself on a whole other path and, uncannily perhaps, quite suddenly know you’re at Home.

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