I find my thoughts once more going to the Christmas story. This time the Journey of the Magi. I never know what to make of them. Their story seems to have so many elements. Were they sages or kings? Thinkers and dreamers or rulers and politicians? Did they go to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new ruler? To check out the opposition? To see if a new god had arrived? T.S.Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” suggests that what they learned most about was themselves.”A cold coming we had of it… and such a long journey… And I would do it again, but set down this…were we lead all that way for Birth or Death?” This is not the christmas card story of three comfortable kings who, graciously, came to give their bounty to whoever it was they met at Bethlehem. Eliot’s travellers have suffered. Their journey has cost them something. It is not a journey they will forget. It has shaped them and they leave different men to those who began their journey.
I have also been remembering a line from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
One of the many reasons I like Yeats’ line is the image of something unformed making its way to Bethlehem. It’s an image that contrasts with the traditional There Kings dressed in their finery, looking thoroughly self assured. Yeats’ rough beast is very uncertain what it will find at Bethlehem. A birth or a death. In this case, its’ own. But it will make its pilgrimage nonetheless.
Most of my patients come slouching to me. Hoping to find their Bethlehem where they can be born. And most of my patients discover that it is a hard journey that takes them to unexpected places. Places that they had marked on their maps “Here be dragons.” Places associated with demons, the undead, and all manner of things malevolent. A common image is of locked rooms which are never opened or visited for fear of what lives there. Or is buried there, unmourned.
For the counsellor, too, the road is hard. We have to be willing to walk through dragon infested lands. We are not always entirely certain what the journey will cost us. (And there are times when it does cost us to do this work.) But we carry on – our patients and us- slouching towards Bethlehem hoping to be born.