As I post this, May 10, a full moon, known as the “Bright Moon” or “Flower Moon” is in the sky. This full moon occurs during a season of transition when living thing things renew and bloom. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s spring, but another transition is already underway. For many of us, spring is nearing close to summer in temperatures; in plant, animal, and insect life; and in our schedules. I am concluding a long, demanding spring semester and yearning for summer. Even though I welcome the transition, I know that like all change, it holds both opportunity and challenge. The full moon prompts me to look at the upcoming summer with clear, examining eyes.
It’s strange–perhaps downright heretical–for a Christian to talk about the power of the moon. How could the moon prompt me to do anything? I’m sure that sounds too astrological or new-agey or (gasp!) pagan for some of my friends and family. The moon is associated with the occult and the Divine Feminine, and so, in some Christian circles, seen as inherently dangerous. And yet, if our fear leads us to refuse to look to the heavens for inspiration, to marvel at the wondrous expanse of it, and see the cyclical patterns of our universe, then we surely turn our eyes away from the Creative Source of it all.
I wasn’t always attentive to the moon and the night sky. Then, a couple summers ago, my sister sent me a copy of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark. The book jacket declares it to be about “FINDING THE LIGHT IN THE DARK.” Let me be honest. It’s hard for me to see or use phrases like “darkness” or “blackness” to signify pain, loss, struggle, or evil. As an African-American woman, I’m well aware that conceptions of light representing goodness and dark representing evil are not only linguistic; they carry over into our world in all kinds of preferences and hierarchies, which we see evidenced in racism and colorism. But my sister is a black feminist scholar and an excellent curator of books, so if she sends me a book, I do read it, even if the book jacket description is off-putting.
I’m glad I did. Barbara Taylor Brown talks about how much we learn from the darkness; that we need it as much as light. She helped me become more aware of the vitality that a night landscape holds, more tolerant of my middle-of-the-night fears, and more observant of the moon’s shape and position in the sky. Have you ever noticed that—not counting the eclipses–the moon appears to us as much in light as it does in shadow?
There’s balance to the moon’s cycles. Even when fully shadowed as the new moon, this heavenly body has the power to affect the seas. The dark surfaces are obscured by shadow, but they’re never really gone. The darkness diminishes and grows every 28 days, standing beside, but in stark contrast to the brightness from the unobstructed reflection of the sun.
As above, so below. The cyclical pattern of the waxing and waning moon can serve as a metaphor for the ways our deeds and intentions will transition between hiddenness and exposure; secrecy and disclosure; behind-the-scenes action and out-in-the-open movement. Neither end of the spectrum is wholly good or bad.
Christian religion tends to praise the coming of the light; it fears or hides from the dark. “What done in the dark will come to light.” It’s an ominous warning that what you want to hide will eventually be revealed. It’s a theme in recent news, too: James Comey, the FBI Director, was just fired, exposing the President’s concern over an investigation into Russian ties that will not stay hidden. An article just passed across my phone describing how Comey’s dismissal exposes Trump’s “simmering anger. Protesters at Bethune-Cookman University rightfully displayed their anger and disapproval about their commencement speaker despite their university president’s threats. The full moon reminds us that truth will comes out, just as surely as time passes.
Light is good. But bright lights can be blinding. Unmediated, the sun’s rays can harm you. The moon, bearing the sun’s reflection, is not so dangerous. A mature Christian spirituality will make room for darkness, for obscurity, for the beauty and vitality of the night.
A few of nights ago, a friend who was my house wanted to step out to my back yard to make some phone calls. I encouraged her to do so, but noted that the patio lights weren’t working. It was well past sunset, but she was completely unconcerned. Perhaps it was that her phone’s flashlight would illuminate her way. Or maybe, it was that the darkness offers its own kind of comfort – privacy and solitude. Once your eyes adjust, you can see by the light of the moon. You don’t need much else.
In the brightness of the full moon and all the exposure it signifies, I can appreciate the darkness around the moon and all it signifies. That darkness isn’t all evil—it’s a sign of mystery, of the feminine, of beauty in the shadows. I know that it’s all a part of me.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.