Gyre is a somewhat antiquated word these days. From Ancient Greek (guros, γῦρος) originally, it finally made its way into Late Middle English through Latin (gyrus). It means moving in a swirl, a spiral, or a vortex, but it has proven more of a stumbling block for many an English student as they wrestle with W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” Indeed, it is generally Yeats’ famous opening lines to that poem which introduce gyre to those of us who have some faint recollection of the word: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre /The falcon cannot hear the falconer; /Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…” As we stand, poised to enter into yet another cycle of the church year, I cannot help but be reminded of gyre and ponder what it means for the centre to hold.
After all, the Christian liturgical life is one defined by ever widening circles. Each day might be marked off by the perpetual cadence of Morning Prayer, Noonday, and Evening Prayer as we travel from first light into night and back again. Each week is an echo of Holy Week. Each Sunday is illuminated by the reflected brilliance of the Resurrection, even as each Friday bears something of the soberness of Golgotha. (That’s actually why Roman Catholics and others use to, traditionally, keep a partial fast by abstaining from meat on Fridays.) In the same way, we move each year from Advent through Epiphany into Lent, culminating in Easter and surging forth from there ever outwards again into the work of Pentecost—to say nothing about the procession of other feasts, saintly and otherwise, that again and again mark our way. With the advent (see what I did there) of the Revised Common Lectionary, yet another circle enfolds us through the three years of the appointed lectionary readings. Thus, even our experience of the Gospel is marked by a spiral-shaped journey from Matthew to Mark to Luke, with the Gospel of John filling in as needed. This Sunday, we will set aside the sparseness of the Gospel of Mark that so defines “Year B” and return once more to “Year C” and the societal concern of the Gospel of Luke.
In “The Second Coming,” Yeats expresses clear pessimism about our ability to continue to maintain this pattern. Surveying the state of post-war Europe in 1919, it is little wonder that he questions if a “vast image out of Spiritus Mundi,” out of the spirit of the world, has upset the motion first felt through “a rocking cradle” in Bethlehem. Is there even a centre anymore around which to orientate ourselves? Or are things falling apart as we slowly spin out of orbit from what once held our communities close together?
I believe there is. While that centre has certainly been complicated—or, at least, our assumptions about what that centre is have been complicated as we acknowledge the multifarious extents of our world. Yet I cannot imagine that the God-given complexity of our Creation is inherently unbalanced. The challenge is to set aside the idea that the motion of history is towards a particular end and try to embrace the idea a little more wholly that it is a movement around, is a movement with. The questions remain, though: What are we gathering around? Who do we recognize as moving with us? In the first moments of this holiday season, I think we can all benefit by holding those questions within us. Notice where you and the people in your life congregate, notice what is setting the course of your rhythms, and notice which individuals draw close to your path again and again. Whether the answers to those questions look more like gentle rocking or something slouching, we are left with the glorious promise of the cycle. We are left to, as best we can, prepare ourselves to welcome Christ into our lives again.