Moors and Mountains: An Epiphany Reflection


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Old hymns are so fascinating to me. Half the time I have no idea what I’m singing. The language is antiquated and sometimes downright silly. But I love the haunting melodies of old hymns (one of the things I lament about contemporary church music–we’ve lost our melodies) and regardless of the ambiguity or seeming silliness of the old hymns, every year round I get swept up in their poetic lyrics and majestic harmonies.

We’ve been singing the hymn We Three Kings at church over the last couple of weeks. Despite its slight inconsistency with the details of Matthew 2, I love the capacity of this hymn for telling the story of Epiphany.

Every year I sing the lyrics, “Field and fountain / moor and mountain” and think, “what in the WORLD is a moor?!” I finally took the time this year to find out. A quick search on the ever-reliable Wikipedia taught me this: “Moorland or moor is a type of habitat, in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome, found in upland areas, characterised by low-growing vegetation on acidic soils and heavy fog. Moorland nowadays generally means uncultivated hill land, but the Old English mōr also refers to low-lying wetlands.”

What we have here, in We Three Kings, is a short geographical and ecological lesson in the journey of the Wise Men. The imagery of field and fountain, moor and mountain captures the vast array of landscapes in which these Wise Men traveled–or at the very least sparks our imaginations in this array of landscapes. And, perhaps, it speaks to the perilous conditions of that journey. They traveled through fields–centers of agriculture and homes to livestock; they traveled through fountains–places of sustenance, where abundance overflows; they traveled through moors–dangerous, rugged, and bleak terrain; they traveled over mountains–a mixture of risk and beauty, strenuous passage with the reward of majestic views.

All this to follow a Star–a Star they hoped would lead them to the “child who has been born king of the Jews.” All in hope of paying homage, of honoring and worshipping this child born King.

What is the landscape of your journey toward the child born King? What are the fields, fountains, moors, and mountains that make up your story of faith and doubt and love and worship?