Yesterday when I set out on my walk it was already noon, but I was chilly from working at my computer in the cold corner of the house. I thought about how if I looped my path counterclockwise the southern sun would be at my back as I walked north on a long straight stretch out in the open. And it turned out just as I’d hoped. At least five minutes of heaven’s heat lamp bringing me up to a comfortable temperature.
But this pale and clear morning I left the house before sunrise and before the thermometer had climbed past 40°. Soon the cold was stinging my earlobes and hands, and my nose and eyes were watery. I saw the sun rise over the foothills to the east – what a privilege to witness that daily gift. A quote from G.K. Chesterton came to mind, about the sun rising daily because God decides again that He would like to raise it, but I can’t find that one. [Note: DeAnn found the quote for me and you can read it in the Comments below!] This from my files also stirs the mind and soul:
“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 (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world. But the Greeks were right when they made Apollo the god both of imagination and of sanity; for he was both the patron of poetry and the patron of healing.
“Of necessary dogmas and a special creed I shall speak later. But 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; it is something both shining and shapeless, at once 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.”
As I was beginning to type here, a friend wrote me that I really should look at tonight’s big harvest moon — so I went out front, and there it was in my favorite setting above the tree across the street, and well worth the interruption! Yes, light without heat, but beautiful, and a joyous link between me and all my loved ones who are looking up tonight at the same reflecting ball.
The Queen Anne’s Lace above the creek did not keep blooming as long as I expected. But some of the blooms are quite spectacular in their dramatic and seed-full drying-out. This was the main thing I wanted to show you tonight!
I first read this poem on Malcolm Guite’s blog – he included it in his anthology Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, into which I dipped recently. It makes me think of my late husband, because we enjoyed, as most married couples must, that sweet and simple privilege of having someone at hand to whom we could say things like, “Honey, come out here and look at the moon!”
Tonight I was driving home from a meeting — the skies were clear midnight blue for the first time in ten days, just in time for me to get a view as long as my journey, of the “silvercoin full” moon hanging there. I wished that I could turn on my jets and angle straight up to talk to the Man who was smiling at me. I remembered the poem, and without thinking whether it made any sense, I said, “Mr. Glad, will you look at this moon!”
You might want to read on the poet’s own website, Grevel Lindop, from which he also links to Malcolm Guite’s presentation. Both of them feature evocative images to accompany the poem.
Too many moons to fill an almanac:
the half, the quarters, and the slices between
black new and silvercoin full –
pearl tossed and netted in webs of cloud,
thread of light with the dull disc in its loop,
gold shaving afloat on the horizon of harvest –
How many times did you call me from the house,
or from my desk to the window, just to see?
Should I string them all on a necklace for you?
Impossible, though you gave them all to me.
Still some of their light reflects from memory.
Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.
My grandson drove over to move some free dirt that had to be dumped in the driveway because a Bobcat loader was still here blocking the way to the backyard. I should have taken a picture of him shoveling for me, but instead I’m stealing one of the pictures he took later on, when he hiked at the coast in the evening and saw dozens of deer on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. I know this one doesn’t look real, but it is.
Zinnias volunteered in my garden this summer, mostly the orange trailing variety, but also one tall yellow specimen, which a butterfly visited just as I was getting out of my car — I asked him to stick around while I dropped my bags on the ground so I could take his picture, and he fluttered back and forth, but re-landed enough times that I was successful.
Yes, I am ashamed of all that basil flowering in the background. I told you I haven’t been cooking!
I attended a Vigil service at a nearby parish for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Old Calendar. A Slavic custom that was new to me was the greeting of their bishop with an offering of bread and salt. After he tore off and dipped a piece, he offered a bite to the young woman holding the platter.
On my way home the moon was so big and bright, I had to stop and take its picture, and now I’m hunting for a moon phase widget to put on my blog site.
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 by 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.