Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Dance of Time

Chapel at Randolph College.

I've posted this before, but in light of my all that I shared with you here yesterday, it seemed fitting and I was happy to come across it again.  If taking note of the seasons and building rhythm into the fabric of your days appeals to you, perhaps this will bless you, as well.

In ancient days, the world itself served as a vast clock. People closely watched the seasons change. Winter thawed into spring, which warmed into summer, summer surrendered to cool autumn, until the first freeze of winter descended and the cycle began again.

The heavens kept time with the earth, the sun dependably marked off the day's hours as it journeyed westward across the sky: one circuit of the sun from dawn to dawn is in fact, the very definition of a day. The sun also acted like any sensible person, retreating from winter's cold and returning with the warming days of spring.

After sunset, in any season, the lambent moon rose to guide travelers through the night. The moon also mysteriously, but conveniently, changed its shape, growing from thin crescent to full orb and shrinking back to crescent again in a cycle that took about twenty-nine days. The inconstant moon proved a reliable measure for longer stretches of time, from new moon to new moon. The ancient Germans called this period of about thirty days a monath, and but for a sliding vowel, so do we still.

From the ancient times, people recognized that the earthly and celestial turning points of the year were linked. The sun's travel delineated the seasons. The solstices, when the sun reached it farthest northern and southern position in the sky, inaugurated summer and winter, the equinoxes; when the sun and moon stood midway between the solstices and and the length of day and night were equal, marked the advent of spring and autumn.

The gauzy night sky held other signposts. Certain stars appeared annually, like heralds announcing the seasons. Throughout the Western world, the great hourglass shaped constellation of Orion warned of impending winter, while Leo the lion's right triangle marked a sure sign of spring. The Pleiades, so diaphanously lovely that to really see them one had to look the other way, led summer into fall.

All nature obeyed the dictates of cyclical time, not least human beings. Just as the sun waned from blazing summer strength to a feeble spark on the far horizon, so too, did the young eventually grow old. Just as the trees in the forests and the crops in the fields withered with the onset of fall, so did human beings age, sicken, and die. Nature yearly reiterated the life cycle of humankind, and each individuals fate reflected the dance of the cosmos.

Although life was shorter, time was longer, moving with the steady but unhurried sun from one season to the next, changing in increments with the moon, wheeling with the great circle of the stars. Then around 1350, carefully stowed beneath the decks of trading ships, keeping company with gunpowder and the astrolabe, the first mechanical clocks arrived in Europe. Modern time made its debut, and forever changed its creators."

- Michael Judge The Dance of Time

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