Drawing Stability From The Faithfulness Of The Moon
In recent years the number of International Days of observance have proliferated. They range from the serious, such as World AIDS Day and the International Day for Non-Violence to the fairly ridiculous, like International Pancake Day and World Vasectomy Day. As a longtime journalist, the International Journalists’ Remembrance Day is one close to my heart. We passed another of my favorites this weekend: International Observe the Moon Night.
I love the moon. I titled my first full-length poetry collection “Discovering Moons,” placing in it multiple poems to celebrate our nighttime visitor. During the pandemic, I began a ritual of stepping outside in the middle of the night to look up at the moon and watch the stars. The practice grounds me. It reminds me that no matter what chaos is swirling around me, the moon and stars and planets offer a focal point of stability. If they can persevere, so can I.
Sometimes I get the feeling the moon is trying to send me a message. Brother Paul Quenon, a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY and co-author on my latest book, “How to Be,” wrote a wonderful three-line haiku about the moon in one of our previous books,“The Art of Pausing:”
With big, white flashlight
Moon is walking its night rounds
Asking: who are you?
Brother Paul sleeps outside of his abbey in a sleeping bag each night under the stars. He goes on to say:
“The full moon is a kind of watchman who has looked over this place every month since forever. I am the one who is the intruder — a passing sojourner. In the larger scheme of things, I must content myself at being a short-term transient in an extremely ancient moonlife.”
Our indigenous brothers and sisters gave various names to our monthly full moons. They provide a kind of almanac for recognizing the unique gifts of each season. In September, we pass the Harvest Moon (also known as the Full Corn Moon) around the time of the autumn equinox. The Harvest Moon reminds us that the year is fast coming to a close. We can reflect on the kind of mental, emotional and practical seeds we’ve planted. What will our harvest be? What do we have to let go of, what do we want to cultivate in the new year to come?
Still to come in October, we’ll witness the Hunter’s Moon (also known as the Dying Grass Moon), named for the fattened game we see at this time of year. What do we want to preserve, to store up as the year ends and we prepare for December’s Cold Moon, or Long Nights Moon?
There will be two “new moons” yet this year, one on November 4 and the other December 4. These are times when the moon is invisible to those of us on earth, just before it appears again as a slender crescent. Ancient people thought the new moon carried special cleansing or clearing energy. They considered it a good moment to mark new beginnings.
To this day, some people light three candles on the date of the new moon, representing three of their intentions.
International Observe the Moon Day passed on October 16. However, we can still set aside time every evening to gaze at the sky, recognizing that we are “passing sojourners” in this universe, as my friend Brother Paul says, amid “an extremely ancient moonlife.”
Here is one of my poems, written after a January super moon (a moon that appears larger than normal). January’s full moon is known as the Wolf Moon. The poem also honors the Chinese poet Li Po, a fellow moon admirer, who once said, “I too must be happy with all around me.” Happy moon-watching!
Super Wolf Moon
a white bloodless eye,
in the womb of night.
Mover of moods and tides,
fraternal twin of the cold
presses the moon onward,
faithful each night
as a monk
at his Compline office?
Or is it the hard determination
of one who’s lived too long
without sound, without footstep,
yearning for touch:
one more small step,
one more shadow dance
upon the chest.
Lone cloud, an exhaled breath,
passes before its open wolf mouth.
Think of poor Li Po
seeing the moon’s
reflected face in his wine cup,
mistaking the moon
for his drinking companion.
Still he sings
alone in the silence,
dances with his silhouette,
a friend of moon and shadow
in the time of happiness.