For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever circling years
Shall come the age of gold;
When Peace shall over all the earth,
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song,
Which now the angels sing.
(Edmund Hamilton Sears)
And so the year ticks over. Back into the ceaseless round we go as the days shorten and the cold grasps the noses and ears of all who are foolish to enter into the winter atmosphere.
One of the most fundamental shapes of the universe is the circle. Being a topologist by nature, circles are not always geometrically circular, but all have the same quality - they have no start or end. For a mathematician, it is this unique property of circles which helps us to understand spaces both the abstract spaces of mathematics and the real spaces of the Universe. Whether a loop pulls tight or not tells us a lot about the space we live in.
We watch the planets circle through the sky, looping and dancing in conjunction and opposition. Our ancients tell stories of the Sun and Moon held in chariots chased by wolves or dragons above the horizon before setting only for the chase to begin again the next day. We used to model our atoms as micro-solar systems. Our marriages are made with a circular band of gold.
So why do we regard Time as being circular, after all it rather seems to be linear? 2012 is not likely to come again unless Cosmologists prove that the Universe has a cyclic quality. The reason is of course that the circling of the Earth around the Sun as it rotates on its axis forces us to see our days as circles and our years as repetitions. We have fixed our routines based on the circling of years, of weeks and of days. It's easy for things to be seen to be a bit samey.
No wonder then that some people look toward to The End. There's always a frisson of excitement in reading a prophecy of Doomsday that it might break a cultural ennui. We are, after all, at the end of the prophecy od St Malachy who lists Pope Benedict as the Glory of the Olive and predicts the last pope as being Peter the Roman. The other prediction of Doomsday is set for 21st December this year (so not long to go!) according to the famous Mayan Calendar.
What believers in a Mayan doom forget is that when we come to the end of one calendar, we turn the page and find ourselves back to square one! January 1st always follows 31st December, so why is this not the case with the Mayans?
If we look for Doomsday, we will always find it., but what joy will it give us? Harold Camping has already given us two failed predictions based on arcane Biblical calculations. What has that achieved?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (St Matthew xxiv.4-8)Our Lord tells us that He will come again, and we look for that coming - the new Advent.
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fallfrom heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken :And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (ibid. vv 27-30)Many of us try to predict it, fed up with the suffering of many human beings, and the lunacy of others. The end cannot be predicted as Our Lord Himself confirms in the same chapter.
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (ibid. v36)
If we cannot know, then we cannot predict. Yes, we can look at our world and predict our demise due to climate changes, or volcanic activities. We can look out into space and know that our little planet will be boiled to nothing in the death-throes of the Sun. We can even look long term and predict that our matter will become so spread out into the fathomless expanse of an ever-expanding space that there will beyond scattered sub atomic particles. What does that do for us?
Well, it does remind us of our mortality, that life is not circular, and that someday our circle will break throwing us into the great unknowable. Beyond that, what more does an obsession with The End achieve? Does it really throw us into a life of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die"? Then life becomes somewhat meaningless and all search for meaning just illusory. Why search for meaning if meaning is irrelevant?
Well perhaps our search for meaning is indeed an evolutionary by-product. Is that what we really feel, though? If we look into our hearts, do we really feel, act or think that all our intelligence, our appreciation of life, our sense of elation, pathos, misery, loves and hates is nothing more than evolutionary illusions conjured up from the chemical firings of some biological components?
We can't just dismiss our feelings. If we make sense of our world with our senses then do we not also make sense with our feelings? They can lie to us as much as our senses, and yet they can tell us much about ourselves. One might say that our gut feelings are just the product of our senses, but they seem to tell us more than just what the external world tells us. Our feelings can succeed where our senses fail, and vice versa. However, we don't disregard our eyesight's testimony just because they're fooled by the odd optical illusion. If we feel like there is meaning, then perhaps our search for meaning does mean something!
Our lives do not circle; they spiral like the groove in an old LP or like the turns in a spring. In Advent we start our year anew and focus once more on the Birth of Our Lord. We have the opportunity of moving along our spiral appreciating the turns and the progression if we see ourselves in the Light of Eternity. Our search for Doomsday may be a cry for the way out of a circular existence, but there is no need to look for the exit sign because our cycles tell us much more than just the constant turning would suggest.
Just as in topology, where the circles characterise the space, so our constant cycling can tell us much about the character of Eternity. The structure of our lives is based upon the return to the same place. Always, always we begin again. If we are bored by life, or seeing no way out then our field of vision has narrowed and we fail to see that which lies beyond our lives. This is often not our fault but the tendency of the world to force us to consider its point of view. We can and should find time to return to our default position, to find out where God has moved to and whence He beckons us.
This is why the Church Year starts at Advent. The reset button is pressed. The year begins again. We recognise ourselves to be on the new coil of existence and look to our origins. Christ will come again and draw us beyond our mortal coil into that which lies beyond - into the Age of Gold.