It’s always something of a turning point for a chorister to return from the summer break to a new academic year, and a new Michaelmas term of choral services lined up ahead. It’s not just the music which I enjoy singing: there’s something about these autumn days – that tang on the morning air – that seems exciting. It’s about new beginnings, not the slow decay so often associated with this season. And I don’t just mean the academic year itself – it’s a clearing of the debris of summer, and a view far ahead to clear winter days.
It’s salutary to consider that there is, in fact, no natural “new year”. Our modern society chooses January, like the Romans did, naming it after their god of beginnings, endings and doorways. Medieval England chose Lady Day, close to the spring equinox – and this is still reflected in our financial year, which begins and ends with the renewal of leases and the collection of rents. The “Christian Year” is marked by events in the life of Christ and the saints – but it is the year itself, the literal passage of our planet around the Sun, which compresses our recollections into a rather distorted shape. After all, Jesus was not actually crucified three or four months after he was born. Linear time and recurrent time don’t sit that well together.
Yet it seems important for us to know where and when we are, to keep the rhythms of the year, the seasons, and the long slow beat of light and dark – and to see God’s hand in our great world of life. When, then, did God begin? When can we put our finger and say “here”? Each Gospel writer famously starts with a different account of beginnings – at Jesus’ birth as a human being in Bethlehem? At his foretelling by the Prophets? At the creation of the world? Before all time?
Perhaps, just as we are enjoined to see God in every day of the week, and not only on Sundays, we can see that the cycle of the year itself starts on every day. For me, these crisp autumn days, these starry nights with their promise of winter, the outrageous colours of leaf and fruit, and a new term full of hope and music, presage something rather wonderful for today’s new year. Tomorrow will bring more wonders of its own.
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