Creatures of Time

Photo by Udo Kügel Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Udo Kügel Wikimedia Commons

The stars also form a pattern to our eyes in the night sky. They circle around the north star, so that when people take a time-lapse photo, you see the lines in circles around the north star. Of course, it is really the earth that is moving, spinning on its axis pointing toward our north star. Every spinning planet will have its own north star. The ancients used to tell time by the stars. If you were to track the big dipper, you could watch it move around the sky during the night, and if you watched it over many weeks, you’d see it was in a different place in the circle, each month of the year.

We are creatures of time. Our ancestors were watching all these patterns, learning them and tracking them so they might tell their children, marking them so we would know how to plant and harvest and hunt, and dance our own dance of time. They were much wiser than most of us at reading the natural signs of time, though our scientists have followed in their footsteps. And so we mark with our machines the minutes and the hours and the days and the seasons and the years. We look back and we look ahead.

Our relationship with past and future brings us the awareness of our own mortality—that for us, and for all living beings, someday, time will cease. Often, we feel pain about that. We feel broken-hearted when those we love are no longer with us, or when something threatens their lives. We can see that some animals grieve when their companions die, but they don’t seem to anticipate death like we do. Our ancestors also wondered about death, and passed on to us their questions about what happens when we die, and their speculations and beliefs about it.

Some ancestors believed that there was another dimension that opened up after time ended—they called it eternity. There were many theories about what eternity might be like, some of which included endless misery or endless joy, depending upon our actions during our time. Others spoke of a cyclical process of rebirth, that we end one lifetime and begin another, until we experience all that we need to experience. In our own era, all these beliefs survive, as well as more skeptical viewpoints that propose that as creatures of time, death is the end, that there is nothing of the individual consciousness that survives beyond time.

Choosing Community

So often when we hear that we should love one another, it sounds like hard work, like a task, like a moral imperative that would be good to follow, but not very pleasant. And I admit there is something difficult about loving one another. But somewhere in the middle of it, comes a surprise. There really is divinity within each person—and when we see it, it is beautiful, joyful, mysterious, and wonderful. It is like the diamond that Dorothy Day was so quick to give to the homeless woman. 

And not only that, when we risk opening our hearts to others, sometimes we experience the divinity that happens in the connections between us. We experience something of that ancient belonging for which we have been yearning. Ubuntu. We experience the oneness of all beings, our part in the family of all things. We realize that we are all gathered in a circle already, we are all part of one dreaming.

Those moments give me energy for the work of creating circles of love and faithfulness. Because we really do have to work at community. We have to make a choice for community. In our society, the bonds are frayed, and the mainstream is drifting toward isolation and competition. There are people who have no one with whom to share their real feelings. So dreaming in circles is about choosing connection, choosing love, joining hands with one other, and then another, finding the people with whom we can cast our lot, those who are similarly looking to manifest ubuntu in our lives.

When we choose community, when we practice loving a particular group of people, we are letting the reality of the universe enter our hearts—we are learning how to experience the reality that we truly are all part of one another. Of course we don’t usually get it right. Otherwise we wouldn’t need to practice. We are not here to try to fix everything in order to create some sort of perfect circle—we are the circle right now, trying to wake up together. Every person is sacred, and we are all one circle. Stone Circle

Dreaming In Circles

Red Moon

Photo by Margy Dowzer

It is said that if a group of people sleep arranged in a circle—heads at the center and feet out like spokes—they create a dream circle. Two or more people in the group may have the same dream at the same time. I tried this once with a group of friends, but I must confess, it didn’t really work for me. Mostly I just had a rather poor night’s sleep.

But I like the metaphor. The word dream is used to describe both our strange nighttime adventures and also our waking hopes and visions for our lives. For me, dreaming in circles is about sharing those waking dreams, entering into the magic that can happen when we join our visions together. We talk and we listen. We plan and we act. We are energized by each other, and we grow strong and bold. When we dream in circles, anything is possible. Margaret Mead has said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And here’s the important thing. When we dream in circles, the circle itself becomes the greatest magic of all. We wake up to the reality of our profound interconnection with all people and all beings. The circle is a symbol of this interconnection between people. In a circle, every person is linked to every other. Every person is equally valued and appreciated. Human beings cannot thrive as random individual strangers in a crowd; we are connected to one another at the deepest level, and we can only find wholeness through loving and mutual relationships. By sharing our dreams, we can come home to a community of love.