It is a very remarkable thing that none of us are really Copernicans in our actual outlook upon things. We are convinced intellectually that we inhabit a small provincial planet, but we do not feel in the least suburban. Men of science have quarreled with the Bible because it is not based upon the true astronomical system, but it is certainly open to the orthodox to say that if it had been it would never have convinced anybody.
If a single poem or a single story were really transfused with the Copernican idea, the thing would be a nightmare. Can we think of a solemn scene of mountain stillness in which some prophet is standing in a trance, and then realize that the whole scene is whizzing round like a zoetrope at the rate of nineteen miles a second? Could we tolerate the notion of a mighty King delivering a sublime fiat and then remember that for all practical purposes he is hanging head downwards in space? A strange fable might be written of a man who was blessed or cursed with the Copernican eye, and saw all men on the earth like tintacks clustering round a magnet. It would be singular to imagine how very different the speech of an aggressive egoist, announcing the independence and divinity of man, would sound if he were seen hanging on to the planet by his boot soles.
I am becoming friendlier with the moon. Our growing relationship is the result of my being prodded by things I read on three different blogs in the last year. Hanging Out the Wash by Adair Lara (recommended by Kim) was the final push that brought it all together, with one simple line in a book full of simple, obvious but needed suggestions as to how to “find more in less” and to “come home to ourselves.” The tip: “Start reading the weather page.” People debate about whether the phases of the moon affect weather patterns, but that is not really why that advice motivated me. It’s just that the moon and its changes are part of my everyday physical environment just as the weather is.
Jody told us about the astronomy site Sky & Telescope on which you can learn what is going on in the sky week by week. I found the lovely painting at the bottom of this page on that expansive website. At left is an example of one of this week’s graphics.
Jody has all around her on the prairie some wide-open spaces without the intrusion of street or city lights, and I can tell from reading her blog that she has made good use of her opportunities.
I don’t think that my urban dwelling is an excuse for ignoring the sky, though. I can at least see the moon, when weather permits, and after I found out when the next full moon would occur it changed my whole week; I have been looking forward to this night (Feb. 3rd in the Western Hemisphere) when the full moon will occur. It so often happens that Mr. Glad and I will say to one another, “Doesn’t the moon look lovely! Do you think it is full tonight?” And we study and try to know if its shape is perfectly round or not, and we never can decide. But this week is different! As I drove home from Vespers on Saturday there was my friend the Man in the Moon smiling down on me, looking just a little lopsided as was to be expected three days ahead of his fullness.
Sun, Moon and Earth by Robin Heath I read about on a blog and ordered by mail. It is just a beautiful little book that tells us how “Every organism on Earth responds to four major cycles: the solar and the lunar day, the synodic month, and the year. We all dance to these primary rhythms. This book reveals the poetic cosmology….”
But it is a little book with correspondingly small diagrams of the movements of our huge sky. I discovered long ago that when I am forced to write in a small space it pinches my creative mind, and I am now thinking that my poor brain was similarly unable to process the meanings of these pictures — perhaps if the images and diagrams had been about 10x larger … It’s a nice size to take on a camping trip, however!
I will digress here from talking mainly about the moon, to a philosophical consideration of celestial bodies from G.K. Chesterton, who in his book Orthodoxy compares the sun and the moon.
“The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is … all moonshine; for it is light without heat … that transcendentalism by which all men live has primarily much the position of the sun in the sky. We are conscious of it as of a kind of splendid confusion … a blaze and a blur. But the circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitable, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. For the moon is utterly reasonable; and the moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.”
If we want to consider the lack of heat of the moon, here is an image as cold as it might ever appear, above a sunset at the North Pole. It’s one of many downloadable astronomy pictures on this site.
As to Chesterton’s assertions: I could not stop myself from posting that paragraph because of my fondness for thinking about symbols and metaphors, and he is using the physical realities of the sky to show the richness of our life and faith. As a symbol, the moon may be set against the sun, but as physical things they are both welcome parts of our everyday lives. Right now I am considering — and loving — the moon merely as itself, and a better quote for that is:
I see the moon, And the moon sees me. God bless the moon, And God bless me.
There is nothing cold and intellectual about that. It’s a sort of poetic cosmology I can appreciate, in which every bit of the Creation speaks of our common Creator and Father, and is part of our earthly home — even the moon that is above the earth, looking down on us, as it seems.
This picture from the Book House volume Nursery Friends from France that impressed me as a child also evokes the familiarity and even homeyness of the moon for the song, “Au Clair de la Lune.”
Two more places I found to help me learn more about my friend:
Moon Giant tells us the exact time of day when the moon is full for each time zone. On this page I had to learn what Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is; Wikipedia let me know that it is “one of several closely related successors to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).”
And the almanac shows the calendar for every day of the month, which I like best of all. The sliver of crescent moon, such as Jody caught in her photo, always enchants me, and on this calendar I can see when it will be in that form.
This possibly older version of the rhyme above expands on the meaning of the moon for us humans:
I see the moon and the moon sees me Down through the leaves of the old oak tree. Please let the light that shines on me Shine on the one I love.
This is the moon we have in common with everyone who’s ever lived on the earth, the way we drink the same water that’s been ever recycled. One time when I commented on having seen the moon my husband teased me, “It’s the same moon that’s always been there.” I began to think about how I share the moon with my great-great-grandparents, with John Muir as he saw it from the mountain peaks, with Galileo and with our Lord as He walked the earth.