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Hallo again to all.

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

Do you remember that time-honoured rhyme that accompanies the children's circle game? At the sound of 'all fall down' one collapsed in a heap on the ground. Ring-a-ring o' roses

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, 'falling down' indicating sudden death. The birth of that chant may be mysterious, but we've all heard it. And many of us played the game as children.

There's 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.

But 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. The circular file. 

'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. 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're 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, on Ash Wednesday, we'll receive our smudge of ash and our reminder of mortality. We all fall down. And it will be Lent.

But our circle game isn't pointless. The circle is the point.

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

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All of us at Anglicans Online

19 February 2012

* 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.

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