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2 before Advent: The Wheel of Life

18 November 2007
Times change and we change with them, as the Latin quote has it.1 The stars rule men but God rules the stars, added Christoph Cellarius.

Sometimes the pace of change seems so fast that you just want to say stop the world, I want to get off:

Round, like a circle in a spiral

Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space...
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.
'The Windmills of Your Mind' 2

When this becomes a collective feeling, hysteria can take hold:
And those behind cried 'Forward!' And those in front cried 'Back!' Thomas Babington Macaulay,
'Lays of Ancient Rome'

Another common reaction to looming change is paralysis, whether through fear- like a rabbit caught in headlights- or through a grim determination to tough it out, even a delusion of omnipotence like Ted Hughes' roosting hawk3

In Anthony Powell's 'A Question of Upbringing', Jenkins reflects on Poussin's 'A Dance to the Music of Time':
These classical projections, and something from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin's scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognizable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance.

External change, change forced on us from without, is of course to some extent inevitable. Franz Kafka's existentialist novel, 'The Metamorphosis', begins:
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

The changes we face are unlikely to be so dramatic. But, welcome or not, the sensible thing to do is probably to follow the example of the British monarchy, that great survivor, and recognise the truth of Giuseppe di Lampedusa's saying:
If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. 4

Or there's Charles Darwin, who knew a thing or two about survival:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

But what about internal change, change from within - change we know we need to make, but which we shrink from? Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Jeremiah 13:23 Indeed.

The simplest form of internal change is changing your mind. Given that we change our clothes on a regular basis, it has been said that a determination never to change one's mind is simply insanitary!

Professor Antony Flew championed the cause of atheism over decades. But in 2001 Flew became a theist because scientific developments had convinced him that the origin of life required intelligent design. He wasn't ready to accept the God of a particular religion, nor did he believe in an afterlife. The change was, nevertheless, significant. He no longer inhabits a worldview where the miraculous and the irrational are synonymous.
adapted from Peter S. Williams, Damaris' CultureWatch

But it is difficult to change the views of a lifetime:
An Atheist was walking through the woods, admiring the beauties of nature. The trees, the birds and squirrels, the river in the distance, all combined to fill him with a sense of well-being. Suddenly, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned and saw a 7-foot grizzly bear stalking him. As fast as he could, he ran back up the path. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him. At that moment, he tripped and tumbled. The bear fell on his prey and raised his right paw to strike.
Without thinking, the Atheist cried out, Oh my God!
Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky.
You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident. Now you expect me to help you out of this predicament! Am I to count you as a believer?
The atheist looked directly into the light:
It would be hypocritical of me suddenly to convert to Christianity, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a Christian?
Very Well, said the voice.
The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, joined it to his left paw, bowed his head and spoke:
For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful, Amen.

In 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', C S Lewis emphasizes greed, personified by Eustace Scrubb. Eustace is driven by a fierce rainstorm into a dragon's lair where he discovers a rich hoard. He stuffs his pockets with diamonds, slips a large gold bracelet above his elbow and falls asleep. But, sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy thoughts in his heart, he becomes a dragon himself. Fortunately for Eustace he sees the light and is re-transformed, though only through an extremely painful experience. After three unsuccessful attempts to shed his dragon skin himself, Eustace submits to the fierce claws of Aslan and becomes a new, whole person.

While we need constantly to wrestle with our dragon layers, and may - like Eustace - be more successful if we seek God's help, God himself needs no such transformation: As Kierkegaard said, Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.

The essence of God is always the same, however the form may change. The essence of a book does not alter although we may change the cover and typeface.
Father John J. Lombardi

Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do, if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But God's purpose is fixed, His will is stable, His word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God's character guarantees the fulfilment of His promises:
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed Isaiah 54:10.
Arthur Pink

For Christians, 'the Dance to the Music of Time' has a real purpose:

I danced in the morning when the world was begun

I danced in the Moon and the Stars and the Sun
I came down from Heaven and I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:
Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'l lead you all in the Dance, said He!...
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!

words by Sydney Carter,1963, music traditional 5

O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Give grace to us who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world that we may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis2Permission pending from Alan and Marilyn Bergman to reproduce these lyrics.
3 It is unfortunately not possible to reproduce Ted Hughes' poem or to provide a hyperlink to the whole text for reasons of copyright.
4Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi.
5 Grateful thanks to Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England for permission to reproduce the lyrics of 'I am the Lord of the Dance'

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