HAIKAST XV – Moon Phases

I wonder if our cultural understanding of heaven is associated with an ascension from the earth because humans for millennia were excited to join the nightly parade of sublime light?

With the glow of city lights, the night sky does not speak as it did to our ancestors whose lives were accustomed to the astronomical events that defined so much of their seasons, calendars, and religious life. As an electrified civilization, we are so far removed from the moon and stars being a reliable navigation system and source of nightly beauty, that what are sometimes called “heavenly bodies” are, in some ways, forgettable. We don’t really pay attention to them, partly because we don’t need to, and, as is often the case, because we just can’t see them anymore.

The moon is an exception, practically, because it is just so large. It demands attention. Especially when its preparing to eclipse the sun.

In summer of 2023. I was working with a team of volunteers at the Touch The Earth nature preserve just outside the city. The conversation turned to the expectation of uncontrollable crowds of people flocking to Columbus for an eclipse. I thought they were joking. Six years earlier, a partial eclipse was destined for Columbus and I didn’t even think to put it on my calendar. In this case – with a full eclipse coming our way – I was told this would be different. A big deal.

Websites began popping up. clearly delineated the “zone of totality.” The black line spanning a few miles wide and arcing across the United States from southern Texas to Maine would pass directly through Columbus, IN. My work colleague near Carbondale, in southern Illinois, who is an avid photographer, touted the town’s merchandizing slogan, “Eclipse Crossroads of America” for having the unique distinction for being in the zone of totality for both the 2017 and 2024 celestial events. Everywhere I read, for communities in this special zone, tourism directors claimed tens of thousands of people may be coming to their city. 

So what is the zone of totality? It means approximately 4 minutes of the moon totally covering the sun, casting a shadow over the land. In the case of Columbus, the eclipse would reach its peak just after 3 PM.

Five months before the big day, Monday, April 8, my friend announced he was organizing a Renaissance Festival at the Columbus Airport. He was planning for thousands.

April 2024 was all about the moon. 

When the day finally arrived, I worked until noon, put on my Welsh dragon t-shirt, and jumped on my bike. My good friend joined me on our voyage to the Airport property. It was a beautiful day. Fears of a cloudy day that had circulated for the past week were dispelled. There were thousands of people. We bumped into many friends, none of us knowing quite what to expect. What we did know was that there were jousting competitions, falconers, knights beating each other relentlessly with swords and maces, troubadours doing improv comedy, and much more. The human spectacle was preparing for an astronomical spectacle. The minutes ticked by. I found my godsons and their family and we ventured to the one hill on the property. My friend set up a camera to virtually share the event with his family in Germany.    

Wind whipped flags, then stopped
I stand on my moon shadow
360 sunset

Later in the afternoon, my friend and I hopped on our bikes, joyously journeying across town to another friend’s house to recount the wonders of the day. I was elated. It was better than I had expected- sharing a surreal experience with a silent multitude.

While we saw the moon during the day, it was a new moon that evening – invisible. 

The following night, Tuesday, April 9, at the first sign of the waxing crescent moon, Ramadan ended. A Muslim colleague explained to me that one of the 5 main pillars of faith of Islam is fasting, most notably during Ramadan, when Muslims across the world commit to abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours for one month. The month is considered the time when the angel Gabriel appeared to Prophet Muhammad and revealed to him the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Because the Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon, the fasting ends after the moon is once again visible in the night sky – signifying the beginning of a new month – a time of celebration. The moon ushers in Eid al-Fitr, a holiday nicknamed Sweet Eid, for its association with the many desserts customarily created to end the time of fasting.

Later in April, I attended the interfaith Bridge Builders Conference in Columbus. As a grant writer for Faith in Place, a multifaith environmental and racial justice nonprofit organization, I work towards ecological restoration as an outcome of harmonious relationships between people of different faiths and spiritualities. I seek wisdom from those that find solace in spiritual traditions different from my own. We watched an extraordinary documentary called “Strangers at the Gate” about how the radical hospitality of the Islamic Center of Muncie turned a would-be bomber of the building into a devout member of the congregation. During the second day of the conference, I learned that the moon is considered a Navagraha, one of the nine heavenly bodies and deities that influence human life on Earth according to Hindu astrology

Converted Muslim
Speaking above Hindu chants
Two floors, one building

Following the conference, I was invited to celebrate the Passover by a friend from the local Jewish congregation. On Monday, April 22, I participated in my first Seder, the dinner that celebrates the Passover – the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt. I was curious why the Jewish Seder and the Last Supper of Jesus were celebrated on different days – even though both religious events are associated with the Old Testament Exodus story. They never occur on the same day. Why? Because of different relationships to the lunar calendar.

I was honored to join in the Jewish rituals expressed in the Haggadah with all the food and drink corresponding to elements of the Exodus story. The Seder’s resonance echoes with themes of liberation, perseverance, and social justice as a response to their historical experience of slavery. The Seder meal is an invitation to a solemn solidarity with those who suffer from inhumane conditions.

As I left the Seder, I contemplated the ancient roots of these themes and their significance in our contemporary society. The sun was setting behind me. The month was almost over. I looked toward the heavens – a familiar reflection illuminated a deepening blue horizon – the beginning of a bright night sky that has led many to freedom.

Holding matzah bread
I am welcomed by full moon
Free to return home