From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
Lunar reflections

Lunar reflections

Christmas ended at Candlemas on 2 February, and last Sunday in the Cathedral was the first Sunday in ‘Moontide’. For most of February, the Cathedral is hosting the Museum of the Moon, an art installation by Luke Jerram.* A giant globe hangs in the Nave, brightly lit at night, swinging lazily in the moving air between the stone pillars picked out in deep blue light. It is an awesome sight.

The Moon floats above the congregation at the Sunday morning Eucharist. For the celebrant and preacher facing west, it is inescapable. So last Sunday’s preacher set aside what he would have preached, and instead addressed the Moon. Unfortunately, the result was a not very coherent jumble of references to the Moon in culture, followed by an attempt to consider a theology of the Moon. When writing poetry, it is often the case that the first few lines written, the ideas that provide the scaffolding for the rest of the poem, need to be dismantled to let the poem stand free. It’s not easy to sacrifice them. But many a sermon could also benefit from the discipline, including last Sunday’s. If only the preacher had started with the Canticle of the Sun of St Francis instead of stumbling upon it half way through!

My sermon might not have been any better, but what might I have preached while staring Psalm 8 in the face? “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8.3-4).

Sunday’s readings were 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, St Paul proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ, and Luke 5.1–11, the calling of the first disciples. It was a line from the Epistle that struck me: “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15.10).

A few years ago, when staying in the Guest Wing at the Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage, I occasionally had the opportunity to talk to Sr Anne Julian. She was a wonderful mix of deep understanding and simple wisdom. One of the things she shared has stayed with me: if God is the great I am, and God has made me in God’s own image, then I am a little I am.

She was speaking of God’s words to Moses out of the burning bush: “I am who I am” (Exodus 3.14) or in alternative renderings: “I will become what I choose to become”, “I am what I am,” “I will be what I will be,” “I create what(ever) I create,” or “I am the Existing One.” And she was encouraging me to remind myself that I am by no means insignificant, because my significance comes from God.

So to our analogy in the heavens: God as the Sun, the burning source of life and light; I as the Moon, the lesser light, unable to generate light of myself and only capable of reflecting the light from the Sun.

The Moon is the Earth’s constant companion, and a source of light during the night, and both Moon and Earth accompany the Sun as it sweeps through space. From the Earth’s viewpoint, sometimes the Moon is full, reflecting the maximum amount of light. Sometimes it is gibbous, with a few rough edges, and sometimes it is the thinnest paring, barely holding on in there. Sometimes it has its face fully turned to the Sun and is hidden from the Earth. Sometimes the Earth comes between the Moon and the Sun, and sometimes the Moon comes between the Earth and the Sun, partially or fully eclipsing the Sun.

All of these could be illustrations of life: the life of faith and loving God, the life of service and loving our neighbour, and how we often fail.

God and neighbour are constantly with us, but it is nigh-on impossible to live in constant light, and it is impossible to give out energy without replenishment. I cannot look at the Sun without blinding myself. I cannot journey into the Sun without burning up. We cannot look on God and live (Exodus 33.20). We all have our shadow side and we inevitably get things wrong. The Moon famously has its dark side that is continuously facing away from the Sun. Appropriately, that is its least interesting side.

But just as the Moon has great beauty and power over the imagination, whenever and however it is turned to and illuminated by the Sun, so those who are turned to God have great beauty and magnetism and live lives of great service. They are not just those people serving in the public eye, such as the great and wonderful late Desmond Tutu. There are many other saints who are going about among us, and they could include you and me.

The grace of God is available to all. God makes the Sun rise on the evil and the good (Matthew 5.45). My little I am is a pale reflection of the great I am, but by the grace of God I am what I am, and I will be what I will be.

So God grant me the grace to continually turn to you, my light and my salvation, to follow you wherever you may lead, and to continually grow into your likeness. Amen.

* The installation has toured all over the world. Tintern Abbey – wow!

The final image in the gallery is a composite of photographs of the Sun and Moon niche and Creation of the Moon, from Kenneth Carter “The Testament Sculptures”, a booklet about his sculptures in the Chapter House.

PS. Alternatively…

I might have explored the meaning of ‘Museum’.

I have seen the Moon at night, the evening before the opening of the Museum of the Moon, and I have seen it by day, during the Sunday morning service, but I have not yet experienced the whole installation. So I have not yet found out what Jerram understands by ‘Museum’.

For the time being, I am making my own meaning of Moon and Museum, as humans tend to do, not constrained by the intentions of the artist.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The word museum has classical origins. In its Greek form, mouseion, it meant ‘seat of the Muses’ and designated a philosophical institution or a place of contemplation.”

This seems like it would be a fruitful place to start.