Looking at the Moon
Jan 5, 2018
On the day this bulletin is distributed, the temperature is supposed to be above freezing. That is a welcome change from the last two weeks. Below freezing is bad enough, but it has also been below zero. But it could be worse. “Absolute zero” is −459.67°. At that temperature nothing happens, nothing moves. Although our Judaeo-Christian tradition says that hell is an inferno, I firmly believe it is a place of absolute zero. Fortunately, the earth will not ever reach that temperature, and global warming has nothing to do with that fact. Strangely enough, global warming has a lot to do with how cold it has been lately.
Nevertheless, 2018 has begun in the deep freeze and with a supermoon on January 1. And as once in a blue moon (which it is), we will be treated to another supermoon on January 31, with a lunar eclipse added. That will make the full moon on the 31st a “blood moon.”
If we were superstitious, I’m sure these would be omens of some sort. After all, the prophet Joel says, “The sun will darken, the moon turn blood-red, before the day of the LORD arrives, that great and terrible day.”(Jl 3:4) The moon has been a powerful influence on human beings, and not always positive. Hence we have the words “lunatic” and “lunacy”. However, according to the University of Michigan’s symbolism project, “the moon is a feminine symbol, representing the rhythm of time as it embodies the cycle. The phases of the moon symbolize immortality and eternity, enlightenment or the dark side of nature herself. It might reflect inner knowledge, or the phases of man’s condition on earth, since it controls the tides, the rains, the waters, and the seasons. It is the middle ground between the light of the sun and the darkness of night, and thus often represents the realm between the conscious and the unconscious. In astrology, the moon is a symbol of the soul, and in the horoscope it determines one’s capacity for reflection and adaptation. It also provides an analogy for the stages of human development: the new moon is infancy, the crescent is youth and adolescence, the full moon is maturity and pregnancy, and the waning moon represents the decline of life, sleep.”
We can’t look at the sun, but the rising supermoon is impossible not to look at. It is literally otherworldly. The ancient Jewish, Arabic and Hindu calendars are lunar, ascribing to the year a mere 354.7 days. Our January 2018 AD is 5778 in the Jewish calendar, 5119 in the Hindu calendar and 1439 in the Islamic calendar.
One of our Biblical villains, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (or perhaps his successor Nabonidus) eventually neglected the rituals in honor of the chief Babylonian god Marduk.
Instead, he had a temple built for the cult of the moon god Sin. At the end of his reign, he suffered from mental derangement (lunacy) and physical illness. It is said he imagined he was a goat and ate grass with the cattle. Maybe he looked at the moon too much.
Because the ancients made so much of the moon and made her a goddess, the Book of Genesis makes it clear at the very beginning that the moon is a creation of God Y-H-W-H and is not a divinity in her own right. On the fourth day of creation, God created the two lights to be signs for the changing seasons and years. The Canaanites and surrounding people who worshipped the moon also had temple prostitutes connected with fertility rites scheduled by the moon. The Israelites frequently found these religions more interesting than their service of the one true God. The prophets had to continually call them back to the truth.
The truth is that whatever is wonderful and beautiful in creation…the sun, the moon, sex, wealth, whatever…is a reflection of the ultimate wonder and beauty of God, who created these wonders out of love for us to enjoy properly and to see through them the Creator. Whatever good things like these humankind makes into an idol, a god in itself, humankind turns into a lie, a fake, an untruth.
Today we are surrounded by a tendency to do just this. It is the great temptation of our age. Not the moon, although the followers of new age religions and serious astrologers come close. But there is now the religion of science; the religion of art; the religion of technology; the religion of business, the free market; the religion of sex; the religion of the absolute freedom of me. Our 21st-century society is turning all these good things into idols, making them things to be served rather than employed as a service to humanity. People, especially the young, are turning their backs on religion. And as G.K. Chesterton said, when you don’t believe in God, that doesn’t mean you don’t believe an anything; it means you’re liable to believe in anything. Like the phases of the moon, religion has become a fluctuating commodity in the marketplace.
Pope Francis is a prophet calling the world back to what Pope Saint John Paul II called the splendor of the truth, which is God’s beauty, love and mercy.
Our Bible concludes with another statement about the moon and idols, which are put under foot in Revelation 12.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars….
She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne…
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven…
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.”
The truth will make us free and keep us warm in God’s light and the fire of His love. Mesmerizing as it is, don’t look at the moon too much.