We are two weeks away from Christmas. It is at about this time of year that I begin to obsess about the three wise men. Or kings. Or Scientists. Or whatever they were. I suspect they were women. Or some were. Even in those days men just sit around getting drunk. Women got things done!
When I was a child I liked the hymn “…of Orient are…” etc. etc. And then there were the camels. Who does not love camels (except perhaps those whose eyes were spat into as children)? Because that’s traumatizing. And then there are the fantastic textiles in all the pictures. Asian embroidery. Middle eastern cottons. Asia Minor and its silks in pinks and yellows and baby blue. Just because one is making one’s way across a desert does not mean one need wear brown. My grandmother grounded on brown. She said it was for coal delivery men. She was old.
And the three gifts. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh.
If you use tooth paste then you use myrrh. It’s a primary ingredient, even today. But back then it was worth the same as its weight in gold.
Once at Saint Paul’s monastery on Mount Athos I was sitting out in the courtyard at about 2:00 am with an American monk from that distinguished community. I had been hiking among the monasteries of Mount Athos and stayed at St. Paul’s because they were fun. Well sort of. They had lots of cool relics worthy of a church geek. St. John’s arm. Mary Magdalene’s skull. Etc. I forget exactly what-all they had, but it was gold chest after gold chest and this Anglican was all excited. The last chest from the treasury was a long, narrow box of three compartments, lidded, with three square lids. In them were the relics of the original Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Seriously. The very material brought to the child by royal take-out. I was all a twitter. I think I peed a bit. Word was, a local queen brought them as a gift in the 700’s.
So later this new best-monk-friend and I were sitting under the stars drinking scotch (like you do) (even though it was the Fast of the Dormition) and talking about life and I was a bit – well, lubricated with scotch. So I asked him. “So.” (long silence) “So, um.” (more silence) ‘So um, what’s the deal with the gold, frankincense and myrrh …you know…the three boxes we saw tonight after dinner in the crypt?”
He turned to me with his face about an inch away from mine and smiled. My blood ran cold. He said, in a whisper, “Do you know where Jackie Kennedy’s pink, blood-stained pill box hat and coat are being kept?” “Of course!” I blurted out. “ In Washington DC, at the museum, at the end of the mall! The one that begins with an ‘H’ !” “Who’s gonna lose that?! It’s part of our national story!”
As I heard my outrage and sarcasm, he smiled.
We spent the next hour slowly getting drunk, with wet eyes, and a full heart.