Yesterday we stepped down the mast on Santa Maria, a sure sign that summer has passed on. The days shorten. The temperature drops. The grass grows more lethargic.
I am sad not to sail, but I have to admit that I really do love the turning of the year. I have never lived in a clime close to the equator, but I would miss the cycle of spring, summer, autumn, and winter – although I suppose they have their own cycles of the year with wet and dry season. This turning of the seasons suits me, but I am also mindful that time doesn’t only turn in circles but that it moves forward too.
Scholars sometimes mark the modern era as one with a linear view of time. The study of history in the early modern period, in particular, was one in which timelines sketched the progress of humankind. At an existential level, some might map this view on their own life journey, wherein accumulating wisdom, money, achieving goals, et cetera are viewed to be the point of life. Of course, we no longer read the march of history so optimistically, and we might now too wonder at an existential level whether the accrual of funds in our pension plans is all there is to life. Even the most jaded post-modern thinker might ponder whether there was something lost in the shift from a pre-modern worldview emphasizing a circular notion of time to a modern linear one. What might we learn from a return to the circle?
Many Indigenous voices speak to the power of the circle – concretely as a way to organize a conversation or pattern a gathering and metaphorically as a way to understand the universe. The circle speaks to equality, balance, and harmony, among other things. In the church, too, we map out the times of our worship in a circular pattern moving from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to Advent again. We sing “Jesus Christ is risen today!” every year. Our church year is cyclical because our year is cyclical. Nature is cyclical. And yet the circle is not all there is. I appreciate that I can move from cradle to grave in a way wherein my life can have a meaningful end in both senses of the word: in completion and purpose. Both make their way in my day to day life.
The beginnings of the academic years come and go and come again, but I know that one day I will not be involved in them. The earth makes its way around the sun even while I slowly make my way back to the earth from whence I came. Santa Maria comes out of the water and goes back in to come out yet again. But I know that one day it will not be me caring for this beatific boat. For now, however, I am a part of her circle and very glad for that as we say goodbye to the 2021 sailing season and look forward to 2022.