Saturday, November 21, 2009

11-22-2009: Christ the King (B)

Solemnity of Christ the King
Daniel 7:13-14/Psalm 93/ Revelation 1:5-8/ John 18:33-37
If you’re as old as I, or older, you remember precisely where you were and what you were doing forty-six years ago today, November 22nd. I was sitting in my sixth grade classroom (which was the school auditorium since there were near seventy boys in our class – too many for your normal classroom) when the only phone in the school rang and the news came that President Kennedy had been fatally shot. I suppose if it had happened on November 23rd the effect on memory would have been the same, but it was November 22nd. That’s 11/22 which, as numbers go, is especially convenient to remember: the second number being the product of the first doubled. The whole number, 11, is special because it’s a prime number; 2 is even more special because it’s the only even number that’s prime - which makes it the oddest even number, so to speak.

Daniel Tammet suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and is a savant where numbers are concerned. In his 2006 memoir, Born on a Blue Day, he recounts how, in his mind’s eye, he experiences the beauty of numbers as different shapes and colors. Tammet set a world record a few years back by reciting 22,514 digits of pi without error in a little over five hours. When asked why he would want to do such a thing, he told reporters that, for him, pi is an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing – like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony. The renowned physicist, Freeman Dyson, when asked about evolutionary theory, responded that it was the best way to understand the development of life; yet it can offer no explanation why we human beings get such pleasure out of contemplating something so abstract as numbers.

Numbers have always had a dual effect; a binary purpose, so to speak. On the one hand they are solid and scientific, offering concrete proof for the existence of order as scientists explain the laws of nature, develop technology, predict outcomes. But numbers have also been understood by magicians and mystics as clues to unfold long hidden secrets, revealing one’s fate and, again, predicting the future. Numerology has long played a part in mystical Judaism where Hebrew consonants have numerical value in their biblical exposition, possessing the key to unraveling divine secrets (The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin, about hidden prophecies written into the text of the Hebrew Bible, was a best seller just a few years back). The recently-released apocalyptic blockbuster, 2012, works along the same lines. It seems that on December 21, 2012 (that’s 12/21/12) the ancient Mayan calendar will end (or, at least, a particular cycle of it will end) and, oops, so must the world. It seems those same numbers, 1 and 2, are at work again forecasting apocalyptic doom and gloom.

With today’s feast of Christ the King our liturgical year draws to a close and the readings sound an apocalyptic air, reminding us that just as another year comes to a close so, one day, this world will draw to an end as well. The Books of Daniel and Revelation are prime examples of apocalyptic writing meant to frighten the listener into taking account of his life before it’s too late. It’s an appeal to our baser instincts, it seems; a scare tactic meant to work best in dire circumstances, appealing to that elemental fright-flight mechanism inherited from our distant ancestors. Hopefully, after the initial scare, we’ll see through the tactic of apocalyptic fright and glimpse the underlying message: that, when our number is finally up, we will possess an eternal destiny of glory, where fear has long been banished. As for any occult numerological value attached to the readings from Revelation and Daniel: they were written in Greek, not Hebrew – thank God.

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