Tuesday, December 21, 2010

on the moon and the sun

Last night was pretty magnificent. Actually, magnificent doesn't even begin to describe it. A full moon total lunar eclipse on winter solstice. Pretty spectacular! The last time all of these things coincided was in 1638, and the next time will be in 2094. Thus, it is literally a once in a lifetime (or once in every several lifetimes) experience.

We went to bed a little early, and set our alarms to catch the beginning. When we first got outside, we were shocked to find cloudy skies. For the entire time I've lived in Tucson, I can literally count on both hands the number of times I've looked at the night sky to find significant cloud cover. Well, of course. Just early I had boasted that since we live in Tucson, we won't have to worry about clouds obstructing our view. Ha! Luckily, though, the clouds were thin, and somewhat scanty. It was easy enough to spot the moon in all her splendor, and follow the progression of earth's shadow across her face.

This is the moon at moonrise, around 5 p.m.

We drove to this random cul-de-sac in the neighborhood behind us, up in the foothills. Luckily, there are no streetlights up this way, but all the Christmas lights on the houses definitely contributed some un-needed light. It was cool to see other groups of people awake and gazing at the night sky. We watched the eclipse until totality, and then lingered a bit, and then gave in to the lure of sleep, as unfortunately we are still working this week.

And here she is just a few minutes before total eclipse. With a magical reddish glow.

Watching this phenomenon in the night sky rendered me contemplative. For one, I knew that friends of mine all over the country were watching the very same thing as I was. And I thought of them, and imagined where they would be standing or sitting, and whether or not there were clouds, and how cold it was. In this way, we were together. In the same way, I imagined all the people, throughout the history of humanity, who have gazed in wonder at the night sky. What did they think? What was their frame of reference? What stories did they tell? Who was the first human to notice such an event? What did they all feel? And I like to imagine that all of us feel much the same way- small and full of wonder. The perspective this brings contributes to a sense of unity amongst us- humans here on this planet. It can be easy to forget, amongst the wars and senate bills and agribusinesses and superstars, that we are all just humans, sharing this same experience- a life on Earth. Even the people we put above us or below us, the people who are never amongst us- they, too must gaze at the sky from time to time. And I'd like to think that we all share that feeling- that little spark of something. The spark that leads to curiosity and questions and gratitude and perhaps a little fear.

This contemplative mood brought me straight into winter solstice today. The shortest day and longest night. The time when the earth's axial tilt is farthest from the sun. This occurrence, this day, has such a rich history. Virtually all of the holidays that are celebrated in this time of year rise from this event. The darkness. The longest night. The sun rises again in the morning, the rebirth of light. This is why we see festivals of light this time of year. Humans have gathered around fires, drank hot beverages, and shared food and love with friends and family since ancient times. There are even stories that tell of the Egyptians bringing green sprigs into their homes during winter, to remind them of spring's return. The tree, the wreath, even Santa Claus are all rooted in deeper traditions which celebrate light's return and the intensity of dark. Do some research- read about the different traditions that radiate from the solstice. They are rich and full and beautiful. And do your own meditations. Now is the time to find the gifts that darkness has to offer. This is the rule of the moon, linked with intuition and creativity. Perhaps it is time to embrace those things. Now is the time give closure to those things no longer needed in your life, and to welcome the rebirth of light.

I wish you all a very blessed solstice. May it be rich and full and filled with love and contemplation.

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