Sunday, September 30, 2007

Moonlight on my Pillow

Autumn is a wonderful time for me. Partly, of course, this is because of the weather; it's cooler and crisper, the sky is an extraordinary deep blue and the leaves have begun to turn. But I have a more private reason for looking forward to this time of the year. I don't know how many of you watch the Moon wander about the sky, but it travels about the heavens in the course of a year, and it has quite a range to its wanderings. In particular it tends to be in the South in the summer when the Sun is farther to the north and then as the Sun retreats southwards the Moon moves north. By late September or early October it has finally arrived pretty far north and at the time of the full moon it rises in the northeast. This is significant for me because my room faces northeast and so we have come to the time of the year when moonlight falls over my bed as I'm going to sleep at night.

Ever since I was very small I have been comforted by the sight of moonlight in my room at night and especially on my bed. It soothes me and awakes a lot of my senses that respond to beauty. I anticipate these nights a lot and they bring me a good deal of joy, as they have throughout my life.

But all was not so smoothly beautiful when I was small. I grew up in a place (Kentucky) and at a time (the 1940's and 50's) when having moonlight fall on the bed of a child was regarded, at least by a number of people that we knew, as problematic and even dangerous. It was part folklore and part superstition and we knew that, but the superstition was common enough and had enough hold on the common imagination that family members and friends went out of their way to make sure that I wasn't indulging my passion for moonlight. Were my shades pulled safely down? You couldn't be too careful, they said. It wasn't good for a child to have moonlight on his bed.

I never believed it - not really, but I was close enough to the feelings of the people around me that I felt some of the dread just the same. That didn't keep me from my passion, but I had to sneak my moonlight fixes by adjusting my curtains and shades so that people in the family and neighborhood wouldn't notice what I was letting into my room.

There were two other things that were also regarded as Bad For Children: tomatoes and bananas (except for tomato soup, which for some curious reason was regarded as all right, even healthy). I didn't mind about tomatoes, but I liked bananas, so the guardians of my health had trouble with me about that one. It's easy to look back on all that from the perspective of dealing with street gangs and AIDS and feel how silly it all was. But I suspect that it was deeply serious. Raising a child is a tricky and fearsome business, and those who do it always need all the reassurance they can get - so moonlight and tomatoes and bananas were out and I worked my way around the prohibitions carefully and secretly.

Funny what a change of perspective 50 or 60 years can bring. I don't know anyone who worries about moonlight or tomatoes or bananas for children these days. Lying on my bed at night and enjoying the moonlight, I think about that sort of perspective and how it plays out in some other areas as well.

There is a controversy raging in the Episcopal Church, and in the worldwide Anglican Communion at the present time - a controversy about homosexuality. One longs to look back to simpler and more placid times. I can only say there have been few placid years in my lifetime.

When I became an Episcopalian in 1961 there was a controversy raging. It was about whether women had to wear hats in church. I wonder if anyone else remembers how ferocious a controversy it was? There were nasty, even vicious, letters to the editors of the various church publications questioning the motives of people on each side of the issue, and deploring the lack of biblical standards in our church.

People left the Episcopal Church for haven in some more traditional bodies. It was no small thing. By the standards of the present controversies, it's hard not to smile when I think of it, but it was no smiling matter at the time. But I did have a bit of perspective on it even at the time, because the church I left was involved in a quarrel about card playing and dancing, and my own congregation had something of a split when it was decided to put a kitchen in the basement parish hall (worldly!) I knew something about controversies and how they seem to pick whatever issue people can get excited about.

I wonder how many people know about the great upheaval of the early 1900's when people and parishes left the Episcopal Church because General Convention voted to allow Protestant Ministers to preach in our pulpits on special occasions. Most of those who left became Roman Catholics (and a sizable percentage of them came back within 5 years) and there was quite a stir when one of the people who exited was the Reverend Mother Superior of the Sisters of St Mary. I don't know how many people at the time explored the irony involved in these people leaving because we weren't catholic enough when just 30 years before there had been a notable schism in which a bishop and a number of parishes left to form the Reformed Episcopal Church because we weren't protestant enough.

After a particularly tiresome row at our community's Annual Chapter one year I talked with the Superior about why we got into things like this, since the issue involved was not of any particular importance. He said: "It's the need of various personalities to encounter each other".

There is more than a little bit of that in the present controversies that surround us. One of the things we need to be alert about in arguments such as the present one is that it isn't all a matter of the issue itself. Some people need to encounter each other, and an issue is always hanging around to enable them to do it. As each year passes I have a deeper appreciation for the founder of Holy Cross, Fr James Huntington. One of his most memorable bits of wisdom was to tell his community that "we are to treasure up instances in which our assured judgment has proved wrong." A nice bit of wisdom for the present situation. Our assured judgment on the issue of the day seems very important to us. It really is important to keep in mind that just because it's our very own assured judgment, God is not assuring us that we are necessarily right.

All of this I ponder from time to time while lying on my bed in the moonlight (sometimes while eating a banana, just to make the point). I wonder what we'll be upset about 50 years from now?

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