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©2002 The Society of
Archbishop Justus, Ltd


Hallo again to all.

Ring-a-ring o' roses
A pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes*
We all fall down.

We remember that time-honoured rhyme to accompany the children's circle game. At the sound of 'all fall down' each of us collapsed in a heap on the ground. Some say the rhyme's origin is in the Middle Ages and the plague: posies carried in a vain attempt to ward off the fatal plague, the falling-down indicating sudden death. Ring a ring of rosesWe may never know the birth of that chant, but we've all heard it and many of us played the circle game as children.

The liturgical year seems an ever-spinning wheel, a kind of calendrical circle game of the church that we all play together. From the mysteriousness of Advent Sunday, with its solemn warnings and waitings, through the shiny joy of Christmastide and Epiphany, into the sombre and ashy rhythm of Lent, punctuated at the end by the apparent full stop of Good Friday, across to the astonishment and sharp surprise of each Easter morning, the after-shimmer of Ascension Day, the burst of energy that is Pentecost, the love song that is Trinity, then into the procession of Sundays-after, finally to All Saints Day, marking the close of the circle in the company of the living and the blessed dead ... the year moves through its daily round.

So often circles are used to indicate what is pointless, futile: 'He's going round in circles'. Circling in a 'plane over an airport, not getting anywhere. 'No one has ever escaped an occasional sense of being trapped in getting up every morning and going to bed every night only in order to get up again the next morning: building ships to carry iron to build ships to carry iron has become so oppressive to some people that they have killed themselves, and if indeed the circle is empty, if the sole purpose of building ships is carrying iron to build ships, the circularity of it must end in madness'.

We believe, if we are Christian, that Our Lord has broken the endless cycle of meaningless birth and death. We are a part of a circle whose circumference is nowhere, whose centre is everywhere, as St Augustine has it. As we take our part in the liturgical year, assume our places in the dance, we become part of the meaning. Later this week, throughout the Anglican Communion, we shall take part in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, receiving our smudge of ash and our reminder of mortality ... We all fall down.

And it will be Lent.

'The point about the children's games is that all fall down and all get up again. This, as Blessed Henry Suso said, quoting St Bernard of Clairvaux, is the difference between the damned and the saved: everyone except the damned gets up and stumbles on'.

Wanna play?

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 10 February 2002
URL: http://anglica

* A variant is 'A-tishoo!' Or 'Atshoo!' to imitate a sneeze.
This and the next quotation are taken from Eithne Wilkins, The Rose-Garden Game, 1969.