The Western Star: Share in the Living Tradition
Vermont Parishes Invited to Host Performance of Epiphany Poem
By Jack DesBois
Storytelling is mindful, communal living. It is how we process and share our lived experiences, and how we discover and own the lived experiences of others. It is how we preserve and test cultural identity and values, how we receive knowledge from the previous generation and pass it on to the next. Storytelling is food for the soul.
As Christians, we are stewards of an infinitely deep and powerful collection of stories, passed down through generations to us in the Bible and all the countless artistic interpretations of the Biblical narrative. I set out to contribute to this artistic tradition two years ago, and I write now to share with you the fruits of my labor.
I began thinking about the journey of the Three Kings… And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this strange story since.
Two Epiphanies ago, during a walk through the town of Middlebury, I began thinking about the journey of the Three Kings, about the fascination humanity has had for two millennia with their story, and about the many ways that story has been told, from Matthew’s Biblical account to Longfellow’s poem to Vermont artist Janet McKenzie’s 2015 painting. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this strange story since.
A close reading of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus was probably not born on or anywhere near December 25th. Yet, year in and year out, we tell to each other the story of a baby born as the year lay dying, and of the faith of three prophetic magi and their perilous journey through the long winter nights. Our need for light and hope in our darkest hours and our indelible connection to the rhythms of the natural world are truths whose power transcends mere historical fact.
Perhaps this discrepancy between fact and truth is what gives us the audacity to shape the story of the Nativity.
Perhaps this discrepancy between fact and truth is what gives us the audacity to shape the story of the Nativity. As a New Englander, I cannot help placing the kings among the frigid nights, mountainous snowbanks and volatile weather conditions that characterize our winters. The treacherous gap roads and the ridges on Addison County’s eastern and western horizons complete a picture that is no doubt quite different from the Middle-Eastern desert landscape the kings must have crossed. But it is this Vermont landscape that sets the scene for my contribution to the life of this story.
And what a rich life this story has led! Like a snowball hurtling down a mountain, the three kings on their journey through time have accumulated the wisdom of ages. They are exemplars of the living Biblical storytelling tradition, the contribution to which is a vital and holy act of worship. It has been a privilege to wallow in their wisdom, and it is with great joy that I invite you to share in that wisdom, that living tradition.
The Western Star is an epic poem for solo performance, celebrating the season of Epiphany and the return of the light.
The Western Star is an epic poem for solo performance, celebrating the season of Epiphany and the return of the light. This piece weaves verse and song into a compelling tapestry, inviting the audience to join in a transportive storytelling experience. Through its novel interpretation of the ancient forms of Anglo-Celtic folk ballads and oral poetry, The Western Star breathes new life into the hope of the world.
After a year of praying, listening and writing, I presented the poem at St Stephen’s in Middlebury last Epiphany Sunday. The experience was humbling, moving, heartening – an unforgettable evening for all who attended. I have since been working as a steward to this story, to continue its life in the world. In that spirit, I am seeking communities across Vermont to host performances of The Western Star this winter. If you would like your parish or community to host a performance, please contact me. You can find out more about the piece, watch an excerpt of last year’s performance, and get in touch with me at my website, http://jackdesboisthewesternstar.weebly.com. I look forward to sharing this contribution to the tradition of Biblical storytelling with you.
If you would like your parish or community to host a performance, please contact me.
Jack DesBois (pictured) is an actor, singer, poet, and parishioner of St Stephen’s in Middlebury.