Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hours and seasons


I have this peripatetic lifestyle that takes me between three different places of residence with the solstices and equinoxes. And so it is that I'm back in New England for the beginning of spring. My training in physics accustomed me to a Newtonian notion of time –- a linear progression that moves equably from a distant past to an undefined future, every instant indistinguishable from any other. Works great for physics, but doesn't correspond to how I live my life.

My personal time is circular, corresponding to the diurnal and annual cycles of Earth and Sun. Almost inevitably, I suppose, for one who lives close to nature. But also surely reinforced by my early exposure to the liturgical cycles of Roman Catholicism. Anyone who has read my books will have caught echoes of the canonical hours of the day and the ritual seasons of the year. So attractive do I find these things that if it weren't for the smothering overlay of archaic dogma and exclusionary triumphalism I could happily come home to the Church.

But wait. Isn't the Christian notion of time linear? From a unique Genesis to a unique Incarnation to a Final Judgment? Yes. The cyclical liturgies of Roman Christianity are borrowed from paganism: Campbell's myth of the eternal return. So, yes, I suppose what I like about Catholicism is pagan rather than Christian.

But what I really want to say here is that the linearity of time is increasingly impressing itself on my consciousness. Each diurnal and annual cycle does not return to the same place. The body degrades, vitality wanes. The circles are imposed on a helix. We spin with the Earth and Sun on a spiraling path that takes us from nothingness to oblivion. All the more reason to celebrate the circular rather than the linear, the Eternal Return, cosmic regeneration, the glory of spring. We endure as a species, not as individuals, and our lives, if we live well, adorn the cycles.