GAP years, mid-life crises, retirement tourism – for many, these are good reasons for adventurous travel – out of one’s comfort zone.
In a recent TV series on pilgrimage many of the ‘travellers’ said they weren’t religious, but perhaps on a spiritual quest, and certainly enthralled by their ‘discoveries’, as well as enriched by the camaraderie and the support they received at the staging posts along the way.
By being bundled in with shepherds and stables in yearly nativity plays, and arriving eventually in Bethlehem after changing (camel) trains at the cross king’s station in Jerusalem, those middle eastern astrologers can for us easily lose some of their distinctiveness - we overlook their sheer single-minded determination.
Apparently geekish advisers on royal matters with PhDs in star-gazing, they set out on a 1,000 mile desert trek to pay homage to a new King of Judah (with appropriate regal pressies), inspired for this unique event purely by belief in their life’s research.
T.S.Eliot’s poem highlights the rigours of their journey (‘A cold coming'), and the challenge of finding not a prince but a pauper: their world-eye view turned upside down.
For us, the child-centred Christmas story usually still manages to survive our celebrations – and there will be moments when, in a pause, we gain a new insight, add an extra item to our belief-basket.
But have we just let another Christmas slip by, drifting wishfully into the New Year without having made a serious, challenging, sometimes painful journey of discovery about our personal faith, one that might, like that of the Magi, prove life-changing?
Sometime this opportunity comes by happenstance, sometimes contrived by others, often by an extension of what we do normally.
Maybe some action about water-shortage or, more likely, floods in our own neighbourhood, might prompt us to give money to those stricken by drought in Mali or floods in Bangladesh, while TV news of Coptic Christian persecutions should challenge us to ask of our own faith ‘What if…?’ and then determine to dig deeper foundations so we can also be a staging post for other people’s journeys.