Praise the Holy One, did you see the full moon last night?!
Did you see it?
The super worm moon?
(I’m writing on Thursday, so it was actually on Wednesday)
A Super moon is when the moon swings closest to the earth in its orbit, and is simultaneously ‘full’; and so appears to be spectacularly bright.
The worm moon is the full moon in March, near the equinox, the threshold of spring, when the earth is soft and ready for seed and planting and the earthworm does its part to break up clods of earth.
Soft earth and a full moon
Brilliant and weighty in early evening
Slung low on the horizon.
A champion in the night sky.
Singular in its beauty. And fair.
Its dominion mighty, and feminine.
and good. Pure.
Earth softening for seed and sowing, planting and plough,
thawed and rich and ready.
The Dormant waking.
Light and dark in equipoise.
Imagery for our wilderness journeying.
It makes us ready to claim our Easter (A. . . .ias),
It readies us to celebrate our redemption,
It brings us to the brink,
And yet, it is the next full moon for which we wait.
The Passover Moon.
We know how the story goes, and the full moon thrills and summons us.
Motions us forward to new life and liberation and death being vanquished
all things Resurrection.
We want to sing our Easter song, for the sheer raw beauty of the moon.
But. . . not yet. . .
Do you realize that this coming Sunday could actually be Easter?
The date of Easter is decided by the rhythms of earth and moon and equinox; full moons and the Passover Moon and the ancient story of Exodus from Egypt.
Had the councils of the early church not tried to mess with things like the phases of the moon, today would be Maundy Thursday and Sunday would be Easter!
But. . . at the council of Nicaea, in the year 325, the church decided there would be not just an astronomical equinox, but an ecclesiastical equinox, (of all things!) and so it was set in stone:
The ecclesiastical equinox will be on March 21st, now and forever! Amen!
What a funny thing to think we can decree such as the moon and the earth in their rhythms. . .
But I digress.
So, that’s how it works: Easter will be on April 21st, because our full moon this week reached its peak on March 20th, and therefore, according to the church, it was not the full moon “on or after” the spring equinox, rather it was the full moon just before the spring equinox. . . go figure.
That’s the ridiculous part.
The important part, the more profound things are these:
All creation groans for redemption.
Creation waits with eager longing, and
the creation itself will be set free from its bondage . . .
The whole Creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth . . . and writhes like a woman in labor, for redemption.
The Creation itself reveals the invisible things about God, namely, God’s eternal power and divine nature.
All Creation sings the glory of God.
The moon sang for me last night.
The people of God
Escaped bondage in Egypt,
Fled from captivity,
Under a full moon!
Brilliant and weighty. Rising powerful.
In the month of Aries, the ram, a deity in the sacred constellation in the land of their captivity.
On Sunday we will read about the burning bush,
a wisp of sacred flame
lapping at Moses’ shins,
a hint and
and the voice of God.
A voice that promises liberation and prefigures the Exodus from Egypt.
A sacred song that resonates as
the antiphonal voice to Miriam’s
when she sang on the opposite shore of the sea that parted
and birthed their freedom.
This low-slung moon in last night’s sky,
the spring equinox and
the soft earth’s promise of fertility,
sing the song of the next full moon’s liberation from captivity.
We’re not there yet.
Like Moses wasn’t there yet, when he stood barefoot on holy ground.
The Exodus will come.
Slaves will go free. Captives liberated.
Christ will break the bonds of death and hell.
And we will be delivered under the Paschal Moon by the Paschal Lamb,
brilliant and weighty.
And death will be vanquished!
But let’s be brave on this holy ground between full moons. . .
Let’s hold the moon and all creation groaning, in our strong arms.
Let’s keep it all in our own ‘groaning’ for redemption,
hearts softening as the journey itself breaks up the clods.
Let’s keep them,
this full moon and all creation crying out,
as our company in the wilderness and our journey inward for Lent.
Can we dare to hold such brilliance
without singing out our Easter song that starts with “A. . . . . .ia”?
But to just hold it in prayerful silence. Contain it.
Bear the pain of its brilliance and unsung joy.
I’m feeling bold,
wanting to take just such a risky proposition.
Wanting to contain it and
let it do its work of illumination and clod breaking
on this inward journey.
Branches that bloom and
the super worm moon entice us to celebrate
and start singing (A. . . .ias) again.
(shhh. . .)
An unbearable tease of resurrection.
But keeping it, holding it, containing it?
It can make us feel,
a little more viscerally, the longing that the earth feels,
waiting for redemption and groaning in labor for it;
if we let it.
It can make us,
a little more acutely in tune with the people of God,
anywhere and everywhere,
who lift their voices and cry out for liberation and for God to vanquish death;
if we let it.
References relevant to my letter, in case you want to know:
Exodus, ch. 3 - 16
a bunch of Psalms,
The Book of Common Prayer:
The Exultet for Easter vigil, p. 286
Lynn Crovatt who took me outside at church on Tuesday to show me the moon.
Duffy Hickey who sent me word of the worm moon’s scheduled sighting, for Wednesday evening.
Benno who walked with me under the brilliance.
Rabbi Aron Moss, contributor to Chabad.org
I’m pretty sure you can tell that it is a stack of stones.
is a stack of stones left by pilgrims to help others find their way.
It is also a long held spiritual tradition to stack stones where holy experience has taken place, and you mark the spot because you want to remember.
Sometimes, it’s just a fun, but bold and brave way to say, “I was here”. To be sure of our own existence.
So, this is the simplest aha moment ever. So simple, that when I say it, it sounds cliché’, and yet it came to me as genuine and revelatory, (which, by the way, is the point of contemplation and the purpose of listening by engaging with art supplies), so I’m holding it as a holy treasure for my Lenten journey...
The aha occurred to me on my way home after Bible study.
If you read all the way to the end of this letter, I will tell it to you, no matter that it is simple.
But first, a little reminiscing.
We decided over breakfast what to do with our day. Benno and I were camping on the eastern slope of the glorious Sierra Mountains.
Magnificently Barren. Ancient and rugged and stunningly beautiful.
Rock under every step, the view in every direction.
We would hike this day, to Italy Pass, a trail that had a ‘not well marked’ designation. As it turned out, there was nothing but little stacks of stones for a ‘trail’, 3, 4, 5 inches high; rocks not easily seen against a backdrop of rock. Mountains of rock, but stones small enough to pick up and stack in delightful little Cairns.
We hiked and climbed and rested our way from 10,000’ to nearly 12,000’ by way of this 4-mile ‘not well marked’ trail.
It was not a trail really, at all. It simply was, a way.
A way through the rocks to more rocks.
I began to feel the presence of those who went before, as though they played with us by stacking stones. Or held conversation. Or offered company without words.
Mischievous Elves knocking the stacks down to make the trail go still.
They were even, companions, keeping us safe. Beckoning. Gesturing. Warning. Including.
With stacks of stone.
Such delight, our silent company! Watching for their signs, following them forward, telling us to turn sharp or turn back, or to go down again and then go up.
Though I am a novice hiker, eventually I felt lighthearted enough that I could join the throng of adventurers who forged this trail with their Cairns, and said to me:
“I’m here, and I see you. And you are here, too, with me.”
And we added, here and there, little stones of our own.
Our marked steps, with this ritual of rock.
Our journey by foot in the Sierras.
Probably 6 or 7 years ago now, with our stone stories still stacked in the Sierras,
No matter that we are novice pilgrims.
Our journey is worth making. Our story is worth telling.
So, my ‘Aha’ moment that I mentioned at the start of this page. . .
It is as if I heard Jesus say, after I finished my art journal and was almost home,
and in just a whisper:
‘that’s me. there. for you. I am your cairn.”
So, simple as it is, trite as it might sound, I hold it sacred.
I inadvertently drew Jesus into my story, onto my page, in a pen and ink and watercolor cairn.
But only in hindsight, it occurred to me, that Jesus himself, could be the Cairn.
He went first.
He stacked stones.
He made a way.
He journeyed the wilderness, kept company with the creatures.
He sat down in a parched and dry land,
in a magnificently barren uninhabitable place, and made habitation.
For my journey right now, into the wilderness this Lent, he is my company.
He is the whispering voice. He is the muse inspiring, the sprite inviting, the mischievous elf knocking the stacks down to make the trail go still.
He is the wanderer in this wilderness who is himself stacked stone to say, as pilgrims do:
“I’m here, and I see you. And you are here, too, with me.”
Walking holy ground,
And looking at me, he said to her, “she is here now”.
His expression, his gentle tone, the essential goodness of what he said, anchored me for the duration of the trip; like a motto or mantra in my head.
She is here now.
As if all the past has come to fruition in the present moment, and that now is all that matters and that the present moment is truly, all that exists.
His words framing the eternal significance of it, that the now matters, because it is full of God.
Now is where God is.
There is no going looking for God. There is no waiting. No hoping. No pining.
No pleading. No searching.
God is here now.
And always in the present moment. We can find God. Right now.
So the challenge is to be, in, the present moment.
There is no thinking, ‘drat! I just missed it!” or
“maybe God will come along again, soon, or maybe tomorrow”.
Mindfulness is a spiritual practice, even a bit trendy in common parlance, the vocabulary of mindfulness.
In simple terms, I guess I would say that
~ the practice of mindfulness ~
is developing an attentiveness that locates you in the very present moment.
Lent gives us the chance for this practice. Lent is a season that helps us locate ourselves in the here and now. We devise all sorts of Lenten disciplines with one ultimate purpose, to center ourselves in the presence of God.
To become attentive to God, right now.
To sink down in and not budge.
To stay. In it.
It’s hard to be present to our own lives. To fully inhabit our bodies, our relationships, our work, our play. Our own selves and souls, constantly scattered.
We’re frantic sometimes to find the thing, the technique, the place, the person, the product, that will bring the soul’s satisfaction of deep connection with the one who brought us into being, or that will give our lives meaning.
It’s still a mantra for me.
Yep! I whisper of myself, to myself, in the third person: “She is here now”.
To locate myself. To re-member myself.
To drop down in to the gravity that presses my feet on the earth. And go, nowhere. But into the keen awareness of the presence of God.
“She is here now”.
And there is no running about. Just being here.
No scattering, no next best move to make, no better place to be, than right here, right now, in the presence of God.
Wherever my feet might be on this good earth.
The Holy Spirit, will take us into the Wilderness tomorrow, Lent I, for solitude and silence and journeying soul work, deep into the presence of God in the human experience.The goodness of God in our temporal life, the transcendent holy one, near and present and indwelling. My life infused with the sacred.
God in my human experience, and me, paying attention.
Boots laced for the soul work of inhabiting my body,
We tease Peter for always saying the wrong thing.
He’s all heart, that Peter.
That fisherman gone falling in love with Jesus,
worshiping the ground he walks on and the storm he stills.
This fisherman with a raging heart to match the sea he sails.
He knows the holy when he sees it.
He flips his lid for it, all the time.
He climbs out of the boat to walk on water when Jesus says “come on!”
He jumps out of the boat and swims a hundred yards to shore one morning,
because he sees the risen Jesus there cooking breakfast.
He’s all in. Always.
This week he’s exuberant about building some tents!
It’s what his Hebrew upbringing taught him about what you do with The Holy.
You build your life around it.
That’s what his ancestors did in the Wilderness after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. They built the God-Tent in the middle of the community, then circled it around with the people-tents.
This Holy presence of cloud by day and fire by night. Right there in the middle.
Up on this mountaintop, Peter suddenly knows himself to be in the presence of the Almighty and feels compelled to build some tents, [ tents, booths, tabernacles, . . . all of these are just different Bible words meaning a branchy structure that you can get inside of, some of them more elaborate than others].
Spot on Peter! Go for it!
Name the Holy One as Holy;
See him, love him, grab hold of him;
build your life around him!
Great instincts! What a beautiful wild heart!
But Jesus tells Peter, “we won’t build our tents up here, but we’ll go back down the mountain together, and for now, we’ll guard our Holy experience with silence. We’ll stay inside of it, together, while we go out into the world.
We’ll live inside of it, out there.
So, my thought about this gospel text, as our crescendo of light culminates and transitions into Lent, and we descend into the wilderness with this Incarnate Holy One, Jesus,
is this. . .
I want to think of Lent as a practice of tenting with the Holy One. Sans branches.
So how do I build this walking talking sleeping waking tent-life, with this precious sacred presence?
What could I do, to weave together a keeping place, guard some kind of silent stillness, with a structure of loosely bound branches (aka ~ a Lenten discipline) for keeping close company with the Holy One?
I’m thinking about what I could put in place.
What could you put in place,
that would make you, as you move about in your daily life, acutely aware that you are the temple, the tent, the booth, the house. . . of God. . .and that you live in this transitional housing called the human body, with God, night and day, day in and day out?
What about you?
What would help you guard, keep, tend, the presence of this brilliant new light of Epiphany that shines in your heart?
What would help you live inside of it, the presence and experience, of the holy one?
How will you structure your tent, this Lent?
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.