Sunday, January 06, 2013

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory....

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow. — T.S. Eliot from The Journey of the Magi

Four years ago last night —  in the dead of winter, on the vigil of Epiphany — I walked (resolutely so my notes say) out of the dining room at Eastern Point retreat house and into the Spiritual Exercises.  Thirty days in silence.

Like Eliot's magus, I had had a long journey there, at a time of year not known for smooth travel in the Northeast, though it required not so much that I follow a star, but that the stars in my life align.  A sabbatical leave, children of an age that I could leave for a few weeks, openings in the winter retreat....somehow it all fell into place and just before Epiphany of 2009 I found myself putting a large duffel and two pillows in the back of my Mini and heading north.

A hard time we had of it. 
At the end we preferred to travel all night, 
Sleeping in snatches...

Eliot's poem evokes such strong memories of my retreat: I, too, had a hard time the first week.  And in the end, I preferred to pray all night, and slept in snatches.  There was a Birth.  And a Death. And most certainly the journey "was (you may say) satisfactory."

At the moment, though, I resonate most with those sore-footed camels.  Before I whine, let me say that my left ankle and foot are healing, albeit slowly.  I'm still in "the boot," but can tolerate some weight-bearing and have significantly more range of motion than even a few days ago.  My galls (the abrasions on my ankles) are nearly completely healed.  I start physical therapy on Friday and hope to graduate to a brace shortly.  Now for the whine:  I feel about as graceful as a camel, in or out of the boot.

Photo is of what I wore for cantoring at the Epiphany vigil.  Bought in Singapore, it seemed just the right thing to wear to remember the kings who came from the East, and besides all those sequins distract you from the boot!

Listen to T.S. Eliot read The Journey of the Magi here.


  1. Michelle, what a symbolic time to start the Spiritual Exercises. I'm sure you had many epiphanies along the way. The 19th Annotation was transformational for me as was an eight day retreat afterwards.

    I also like the symbolism for your choice of clothing for cantoring at the Epiphany vigil. I hope your ankle and foot heal quickly.

    1. It certainly was, and I was aware of it as I got ready to go....though somewhat less so as I dug in those first days. But I was so struck re-reading Eliot's poem of the many ways it evoked those experiences.

  2. I always think about how you were able to go. Your own pilgrimage is a star that I follow, hopeful that such things are in my future. Whether they are or not, the hope and the idea are such rich gifts.

    And I love what you are wearing... and prayers for that foot!

  3. I have to say that although I echo the prayers and symbolism, my heartfelt first response to this post was, "Four years ago?? Really?" It seems somehow impossible that I read the posts of yours on the Long Retreat that long ago.

    You sure it wasn't last week? :)