Lent with a Medieval Wheel

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I sometimes have a habit of seeing a spiritual presentation or lecture and remembering a lot of detail, but forgetting some basic “logistics”. For example, I once shared all the particulars of a talk with a friend, but could not answer some simple questions he had, so he said, “You just gave me every detail of that talk, but you can’t tell me the name of the presenter or the name of the church where the event was held or even the name of the town? Is that right?” I sheepishly responded, “…Right.”

Such was the case back around 2011 or 2012 (can’t remember which) when I happened to catch Fr. Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron) on EWTN giving a lecture on something called The Medieval Wheel of Fortune. I believe this talk is now part of the “Untold Blessings” lecture series offered at Word on Fire.

This Medieval Wheel strongly relates to the idea of detachment and lent is an opportune time to practice detachment from selfishness, material things and habitual sin; it’s helped me a lot on my spiritual journey, so I like sharing it with others. Perhaps I was particularly intrigued because it comes out of the middle ages and yet seems so timeless.

It goes something like this; the Roman goddess Fortuna was the goddess of fortune and the personification of luck. Fortuna was said to govern the circle of life. Imagine we are firmly attached to the edge of a circle or wheel being helplessly spun around by Fortuna; a wheel containing 4 stages of life as depicted above.

  • Stage 1: I Reign – A zenith or climax. You are on top of the world.
  • Stage 2: I Have Reigned – Things begin to unravel or are in decline
  • Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – All is lost. This is rock bottom.
  • Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – Positive signs return. There is hope.

 

A modern day example I’ll use with my confirmation students:

  • Stage 1: I Reign – I just found new (and hot) girlfriend!
  • Stage 2: I Have Reigned – It’s been a few weeks, and she’s starting to get on my nerves.
  • Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – We broke up. My life is over!
  • Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – Who’s that other cute girl that keeps looking at me?

 

An example I use when I present to RCIA candidates:

  • Stage 1: I Reign – I just found a great new job!
  • Stage 2: I Have Reigned – I’m under more pressure and I hear the company is having financial problems.
  • Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – I lost my job.
  • Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – My new job search has many solid leads

After the fall of Rome, the medievals took this wheel of life and Christianized it. What happens as you move closer to the center of a spinning wheel? It spins slower. What happens at the absolute center? It does not move at all. What would happen if we put Christ in the absolute center of the wheel; at the absolute center of our life? We would experience peace, become centered and detached from the fast edge of the wheel; life’s ups and downs would no longer control us, no longer exhaust us. Stain glass rose windows seen in medieval cathedrals come from this concept.

Theologically, we can say that we are either moving our souls toward God or toward “self”. Moving toward God ultimately becomes Heaven. Moving toward “self” ultimately becomes Hell. In the context of the wheel, we could say that we are either moving our souls toward the center of all things with Christ or out to the edge in an ever-expanding circle of madness.

Fr. Barron brilliantly linked all this to an interpretation of the beatitudes that is all about detachment:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those detached from material things.
  • Blessed are they who mourn…Blessed are those not addicted to “feeling good”.
  • Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those not self-centered.
  • Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness…Blessed are those detached from sin.
  • Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are those who are detached from revenge.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart…Blessed are those detached from evil thoughts.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those free from hatred.
  • Blessed are you when they insult & persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me …Blessed are you if you don’t care what people think!

Since I like to make thinking “visible”, I created a visual of what I learned. Click HERE for a PDF version of The Medieval Wheel of Fortune from my old blog…and have a “detached” lent.

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