Sunday, 5 July 2015

Multifaith Mashup: The Moon - Vicki Garlock


Credit: Pinterest


O moon-faced Beloved, the month of Ramadan has arrived. 
Cover the table and open the path of praise. 
(“Ramadan” by Rumi as found in The Pocket Rumi


The lunar crescent. It signals the start of a new month and has become a symbol of Islam. As the month of Ramadan approaches, its sighting literally becomes world-wide news. A friend who grew up in Iran talked about the fun, but rather low-tech, method used to sight the first moon of the new month in his hometown. Families would sit on the rooftops while the kids looked for the appearance of the crescent. Upon spying it, exclamations of “Allahu Akbar” would ring out. “You could hear the shouting from rooftops all over the city,” he said.

To non-Muslims, it all sounds pretty straight-forward, but as Muslims will tell you, it’s really not. All sorts of factors influence the appearance of the crescent moon which results in various start dates for the new month. Since Ramadan is the most important month of the Islamic calendar, its official start date is significant. This year, in many countries around the world, religious authorities declared that fasting would start on Thursday, June 18. In other countries, like Bangladesh, fasting didn’t begin until Friday, the 19th. In Pakistan, official moon-sighting committees for the government and individual mosques regularly clash over the date on which fasting should begin. Even impartial scientific calculations don’t entirely solve the problem since the first crescent moon appears on different nights in different geographical locations.

Muslims are well aware of these mild “lunar wars,” and hundreds of articles about Ramadan moon-sighting strategies have been published over the last few weeks. All the hoopla would make it easy to assume that Muslims have some sort of monopoly on the lunar-spotting market.

In fact, the moon has been honored, in one way or another, in nearly every culture in the world. For the ancient Greeks, it was the all-seeing moon goddess, Selene, who drove her chariot, pulled by two white winged horses, across the night sky. Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Luna. The ancient Chinese worshipped Chang’e, wife of the legendary archer, Houyi, and for the Phrygians, the moon god was Men. From Hinduism, we have Chandra, the original Indian god of the moon. Like Selene, Chandra also rode his chariot across the night sky, but his was driven by ten white horses. And if the widespread existence of lunar gods and goddess is not enough to convince you of the moon’s grip on the ancient world, we can add the lunar-based calendars of both Hinduism and Judaism. While the new moon is significant in many Hindu calendars, the changing months in ancient Hebrew calendars were marked in exactly the same way as in Islam – by the appearance of the crescent.


Abrahamic Texts

As you might expect, the moon, sitting at the intersection of power, beauty, and sacredness, shows up in numerous writings from various religious traditions. In honor of Ramadan, we’ll start with the Abrahamic texts. Verses from the Qur’an and from Psalms (a book in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) are often amazingly similar when expressing praise for God’s wonderful creation. Passages on the moon are great examples.

Blessed be He Who hath placed in the heaven mansions of the stars, and hath placed therein a great lamp and a moon giving light! And He it is Who hath appointed night and day in succession, for him who desireth to remember, or desireth thankfulness. (Qur’an, Pickthall translation 25:61-62) 

Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o'er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds! (Qur’an, Yusuf Ali translation 7:54) 

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night, for this steadfast love endures forever….
(Holy Bible, NRSV, Psalm 136:3-9)


Credit: Pinterest


Eastern Texts

In texts associated with the Eastern traditions, the moon is presented in a slightly different light. The Pali Canon, one of the foundational texts in Theravada Buddhism, offers the moon as a metaphor both for redemption and for recognizing the divine nature that exists in each of us. This passage focuses on Angulimala, the son a brahman chaplain and a brilliant medical student. In a dramatic turn of events, he became a roadside robber who cut off the thumbs of his victims. The Buddha helped Angulimala realize the error of his ways and welcomed him into the sangha where he eventually became awakened. In this passage, his compassionate nature is likened to the light of the moon emerging in the night sky.


He who once lived in negligence
And then is negligent no more,
He's the one who brightens this world
— Like the moon released from a cloud. 
Who follows up with wholesome deeds
Unwholesome deeds he may have done,
He's the one who brightens this world
— Like the moon released from a cloud. 
Indeed that youthful bhikkhu who
Pours himself into the Buddha's teaching,
He's the one who brightens this world
— Like the moon released from a cloud.
(Angulimala Thera)


The association between the moon and that which is divine shows up again in one of the most acclaimed chapters of the Bhagavad Gita. When Krishna finally shares his fully-divine form with the mortal, Arjuna, the celestial bodies provide one way to capture – albeit ineffectually – the full glory of his Lordship.


O Lord, I see within your body all the gods and every kind of living creature. I see Brahma, the Creator, seated on a lotus; I see the ancient sages and the celestial serpents. 
You are the supreme, changeless Reality, the one thing to be known. You are the refuge of all creation, the immortal spirit, the eternal guardian of eternal dharma. 
You are without beginning, middle, or end; you touch everything with your infinite power. The sun and moon are your eyes, and your mouth is fire; your radiance warms the cosmos. (Bhagavad Gita 11:15, 18-19)


Sufi Tradition

The moon as a hallmark of divine nature also makes an appearance in Sufi poetry. Although arising from a completely different tradition, we once again encounter the idea that the moon reminds us of our connection to all that is holy.

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.” Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise, someone would call the cops. Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear. (“With That Moon Language” by Hafez as found in The Gift)

My favorite moon metaphor comes from Rumi – the moon is simply love. Here is Coleman Barks’ version

There is some kiss we want with our whole lives, the touch of spirit on the body.
Seawater begs the pearl to break its shell.
And the lily, how passionately it needs some wild darling.
At night, I open the window and ask the moon to come and press its face against mine. Breathe into me.
Close the language-door and open the love-window.
The moon won’t use the door, only the window.
(“There is Some Kiss we Want” by Rumi as found in A Year with Rumi)


Conclusion

Changing on each consecutive night, offering a monthly cycle rather than an annual one, and serving as a reflector of light rather than an original source, the moon offers profound lessons to all who have watched her over the course of human history. On a nightly basis, she demonstrates the sacred juxtaposition of power and transformation. The start of Ramadan generates significant moon-interest for a couple of weeks, but of course, the moon – and all the lessons she offers – are freely available to all of us each and every night. So the next time you see the moon appearing in the sky, take a moment to honor the greatness of God, the divine spark that resides in each of us, and the power of love.



Vicki Michela Garlock is founder of Faith Seeker Kids and the Curriculum Specialist for Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville, North Carolina.

[Multifaith Mashups explore a topic from a variety of faith traditions and sacred texts. To see other columns, search our blog Faith Seeker Kids using the Multifaith Mashup tag. These columns are representative of the Sunday school curriculum we developed for the older elementary kids at Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville, NC.]


References

Barks, C. A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings. Trans. NY: Harper Collins, 2006. Print.

Helminski, K. ed., The Pocket Rumi. Trans. Boston/London: Shambhala, 2008. Print.

Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2007. Print.

Ladinsky, D. The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master. Trans. NY: Penguin Compass, 1999. Print.

Olendzki, A. Angulimala Thera: The Moon Released (Thag 16.8). Trans. Access to Insight, 2005. Web. 02 November, 2013. <www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thag/thag.16.08.olen.html>

Pickthall, M.M. The Glorious Qur’an. Trans. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 2000. Print.

Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. CA: Nilgiri Press, 1985. Print.

Yusuf Ali, A. The Qur’an. Trans. Istanbul, Turkey: ASIR MEDIA, 2002. Print.




1 comment:

  1. Thank you Vicky for this post. I discovered beautiful poetic texts about the moon. I have myself always loved to watch (stare at?) it and felt the "power" that comes from it. It's both soothing and empowering. And as a woman, we are even more atune to her changes and cycle...

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