If you believe Pastor John Hagee, as well as countless other evangelicals, Sunday evening’s blood moon/full moon/lunar eclipse is a sign of, well, apocalypse now — especially in the wake of the Iran deal.
I am going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that Hagee’s bizarre theory is wrong — that the world is not coming to an end, and that I reject any kind of apocalyptic thinking.
Even though there are some fantastic photos of that blood moon in Jerusalem.
Even though the blood moon occurred on the eve of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, when the moon is full.
And even though the prophet Joel preached: “Before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes, I will set portents in the sky and on earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke; the sun shall turn into darkness, and the moon into blood.” (Joel 3:3-4)
What would a “faithful” response be to this past Sunday’s lunar event?
Jews, and others — pay attention.
The Jews are a lunar people. Both Ur, Abraham’s birthplace (in modern-day Iraq), and the place where his family migrated to — Haran (in modern-day Turkey) — were centers of a moon-based religion. The Yazidis have elements of their religious culture that can be traced back to that ancient faith.
Jacob’s uncle and father-in-law, Laban, lived in Haran. His name seems to be related to the word levanah, meaning “moon.” Likewise, Abraham’s father, Terach, has a name that reminds us of the Hebrew word yerach, which means moon.
It was natural, then, for ancient Judaism to base its way of reckoning time on the phases of the moon. Like the moon, the Jewish people is constantly going through various historical and spiritual cycles: times of creativity, and times of stagnation; times of openness to the world and its wisdom, and times of insularity.
My colleague and friend, Rabbi James Stone Goodman, reminded me that Rosh Ha Shanah — the Jewish New Year — happens when the moon is barely discernible.
And yet, even when the evening sky yields very little light, the Jew has the profound courage to proclaim a new year.
The moon was the first thing in the universe to protest. An ancient legend imagines that when God created the sun and the moon on the fourth day of creation, the moon protested that the sun had much more light. God consoled the moon, saying that in the future, its light would be as great as the sun. The moon was still not satisfied. The moon’s ongoing protest did not make God very happy. As Norma Rae, in the movie of the same name, said: “Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.”
But that legend is not merely a sweet story. We can imagine that it provided comfort to the Jews, a powerless people, reminding them that their relative powerlessness, i.e., being a lesser light, would not last forever.
The moon is smaller than the sun; the Jews have been smaller than other nations. But this has been a blessing. The Jews have been a minority, and minorities don’t get to take themselves for granted.
They are forced to think.
God is in eclipse as well. It’s not just the moon that goes into eclipse. This is one of the most beautiful moves in all theology — God is also sometimes in eclipse.
The great German-Jewish theologian, Martin Buber. wrote a book on that theme. The idea is biblical, hearkening back to the not on that sometimes, God’s face is hidden.
But, for me — and I suspect for many — this idea of the divine presence in eclipse can have powerful meaning. Just because we cannot sense God’s presence does not mean that God is not there.
Recall the famous, sad inscription, sometimes said to have been found on a wall in the Auschwitz concentration camp (others say: on a wall in a cellar in Cologne, Germany): “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.”
Pay attention to everyday miracles. When I was outside on the beach on Sunday night, looking at the moon, a teenaged boy walked boy. He was listening to music, and totally oblivious to what was going on in the heavens.
I stopped him. “Hey, look at the moon!” I said.
Which he did, and to which he instantly responded: “Holy s——-, is that dangerous?”
(See apocalyptic fantasies, above).
I toyed with telling him that, in fact, the Venusians were in the process of completing their utter conquest of the entire solar system, that earth was about to be either destroyed or become a colony of Venus, and that, therefore, he need not do his homework — but that would have been cruel.
I did, however, give him a mini-lecture on paying attention. “Check it out,” I told him. “There isn’t going to be another one like it until 2033. Stuff like this doesn’t happen all the time.”
My young friend will be, oh, about 36 years old when that amazing sight comes around again. Many of us will still be around; others, won’t.
It’s about paying attention.. Minor miracles like that don’t happen all the time, you know.