Thursday, February 21, 2008

my lord is near me all the time

Inspired by my previous post on the moon, I’m going to use it as the focus of my Lenten meditation this evening, too. It appears pretty early in the Bible, by any reckoning:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
(That passage still reminds me of one of my favorite sections from Copland’s “In the Beginning”, which we sang in the Chorale last spring.) The Israelites were not, I think, very good astronomers. That phrase—“the lesser light to rule the night”—echoes through dozens of conversations I’ve had with people who don’t understand how the solar system works and think the moon is only/always out at night. Even in Guinea, which is the closest situation I’ve been in to ancient Israel, and where people’s schedules depend immensely on the phase of the moon, most people had no idea that when the moon isn’t out at night, it can be visible in the day. I don’t blame Moses, or whoever authored Genesis, for not saying something more precise about the nature of the moon; they had much more important things to discuss, like the fact that God is an amazing creator.

Once you do know something about the moon, though, it becomes a wonderful metaphor. It’s like the mirror Robert Fulghum wrote about in It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It: not producing any light of its own, it takes the light of the greater light and shares it when the sun is inaccessible. It’s a physical manifestation of grace in the darkness.

This light is also genuinely the most peaceful place I’ve ever found to be. The expanse of stars is terrifying. But the moon is a neighbor, and it feels that way. While the Guineans would dance during the full moon, because it allowed them to stay up all night without fear of darkness, I would stand in awe. Moonlight feels like forgiveness. Debussy’s “Clair de lune” is gorgeous and almost captures it, but walking in moonlight gives an immense feeling of calm and starkness and security.

Tonight I just thank God for the moon, for all the dreams it has inspired and joys it has supported, for its beauty, and for the challenges it poses. May we treat it well, and may it always be a firm stepping stone to the rest of the cosmos.

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