The “Circle of Life” is the opening song of the Disney movie The Lion King. To the rhythmic background of a Zulu chant, the lyrics introduce the theme:
From the day we arrive on the planet and, blinking, step into the sun,
There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found;
But the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky keeps great and small on the endless round.
It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love
‘Til we find our place on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life.
As the song climaxes, newborn cub Simba is presented to the jungle animals, as his parents, Mufasa and Sarabi glow with pride. This demonstrates that The Circle of Life is complete.
Well, not quite. There’s the tiny reality that Mufasa and Sarabi die in the middle of the story, replaced in the final scene by Simba and his blushing bride Nala holding their newborn cub, the start of a new Circle of Life.
It’s that dying part of the Circle that we try to ignore. Life goes on in the jungle, but the specific lives of Mustafa and Sarabi don’t go on. Yes, dying is as real as living, and older people need to accept that reality for their own good and for the sake of the whole living jungle around them.
Actually, throughout Nature, life depends on death.1 Plants create nourishment by combining oxygen from the air, important chemicals from the soil and energy from the sun. These plants live and reproduce. Some are eaten by grazing animals, and then become part of those animals’ Circle of Life. Predatory animals feed on grazers, creating new lives from deaths. We shop at the store for our own food, all of which comes from the death of plants and animals. Dead things that don’t get eaten by other life forms, both plants and animals, end up being recycled by worms, fungi and bacteria. That’s the Circle of Life that God created, and it’s very efficient. Death is an important part of it.
My death is part of it. Get over it, George!
However, this same Creator God is so imaginative that he outdid himself by providing The Spiral of Life. He didn’t make this wonderful universe just to go through a repetitive and endless series of life/death circles. He built positive change into the life/death process that has resulted in the evolution of living things into a magnificent display of imaginative variety over many generations. But that physical spiraling is just a metaphor for the spiritual spiraling he has built into the experience of those special creatures made in his image — human beings:
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its enslavement to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)
God has announced that the climax of The Spiral of Life is his sending of Jesus into the world of Mustafa and George and other dying things, to do what? To die! According to the New Testament Book of Hebrews, the religions of the world offered animal sacrifices to God to avoid having to face their own death. These are just
“. . .sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf . . . He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28)
Now, that’s spiritual spiraling: Hang on!
The last line of The Lion King song talks about “finding our place in the Circle of Life.” I’m trying to keep seeing myself in that context with the help of poet Ogden Nash’s Preface to the Past. I encourage you to read it all,2 but it ends . . . .
Here lies my past; good-bye I have kissed it.
Thank you, kids, I wouldn’t have missed it.
– – Pastor George Van Alstine
1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982216305954 – “From Death Comes Life”