on travelling in the dark

Yesterday was epiphany, which remembers the visit of the wise men to Jesus, though in reality they must have come much later. The wise men somehow capture our imagination more than some other characters, such as the faithful elderly Anna and Simeon who feature earlier in the story yet never find their way on to Christmas cards.

One of the features of those depictions is the star-filled night. We gloss over this, enjoying the artistic results: camels and riders silhouetted against an inky-blue backdrop. Yet their journey seems to me to have much to reflect on.

The wise men had no option but to travel at night, but I wonder if that would have been their choice. Yes, they studied the stars so it one sense it was familiar. Yet they were rich and important men, so to journey almost incognito, without the recognition of onlookers, must have been as costly, at least to their egos, as the trip itself. More dangerous too, with attack a constant risk under the cover of darkness.

There are times in our lives when we find ourselves travelling in the dark. Depression may spread around us like a fog and obscure our view, as if we have fallen into a dark pit with no footholds for escape. Or the death of a loved one sends icy tentacles around our heart, sending us into a wilderness of longing where absence seems so much stronger than presence. Or we may simply find ourselves unsure about the future with no clear signposts to show us the way ahead, the right decision to make.

At such times we need companions who will travel with us, as undoubtedly those wise men would have had. We don’t need them to try to fix things, to change the path, and particularly we don’t need them to question how dark the night has become, to minimise the shadows or drop clichés about the coming dawn. We need them to mount the equivalent of the camel and say that whether the star reappears or however long the darkness lasts they will walk beside us. That we matter more than the darkness.

If they do, we may even find at journeys end that we are welcomed into the warmth and can again learn to worship.

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