Lessons from the Blood Moon

Photo credit: Russ Campbell

Photo credit: Russ Campbell

We had a crystal clear night in which to observe last night’s blood moon. Even better, the eclipse of the super moon coincided with the time the moon shines through the skylight onto our boy’s bed. So I laid down on the end of the bed, propped my feet up onto the bookshelf, binoculars in hand, and watched the show. It was late, he was tired, and so periodically I would nudge him and hand him the binoculars so he could sit up see the ever-reddening moon. At first viewing about halfway through he was nonplussed, but when the eclipse was total he looked at me and said, “That’s pretty cool.” Then he crashed back onto his pillow.

A few minutes later, he finger-walked his hand down the bed and parked it gently on my shoulder. I reached up and gave it a squeeze. And when I next looked at the moon I noticed something else. Besides giving the moon more dimensions and a better-defined spherical shape, the dim light also allowed me to see the stars nearby. When there is a new moon it is easy, in our neck of the woods, to see the depth and grandeur of the Milky Way across the sky. But during the eclipse we can see the Milky Way and the moon together and for me, suddenly, the universe was real in a way that hasn’t struck me in a long time.

Over 30 years ago, I sat alone on a Lake Michigan beach during a new moon. I felt the depth of the sea of stars above me, and it occurred to me that if the moon was on the other side of the Earth then I must be upside down, in danger of falling into outer space. The thought was startling enough to make me reach down to steady myself and of course all I came up with was two handfuls of sand. I had to depend on gravity to hold me in place; that thought has stayed with me. I recall that moment often because it was then that my 19-year-old self became aware of all of the possibilities and uncertainties that were ahead of me, and there was only so much I could do to control the future. There would be times when I would reach for something solid to steady me and come up with a handful of sand. Sometimes a person would be there. Other times, gravity would have to suffice.

Last night when I looked out, past the moon and into deep space, someone reached for me and I was there. I was the something steady, and with my eyes on the cosmos I felt somehow worthy of his grasp. The future is as full of possibilities and uncertainties as ever, and the idea of it all being tied to a blood moon is not lost on me. Going forward, sometimes the full moon will dominate the sky, illuminating some things and obscuring others. Sometimes the new moon will let us see the rest of heaven from our darkened earthly landscape. Many things will change, for him and for me, but these – along with blessed gravity – will be constants if we can just remember to look up, together, and try to see it all.

Saturday Moment: “Is THAT the Holy Child?!” The Pieces Fall into Place at Mass.

The Scene

Our church as it looked in January 2013

For many reasons going to Mass is a production for us (I documented some of our more memorable visits), and so we do not attend as regularly as I would like. The politics of the Vatican in recent years did little to stoke my religious fervor but we do make frequent trips to the empty church to say prayers for those we love, and in particular to remember the young friend my son lost to leukemia last year. The choice of Pope Francis I last week led us to venture to Mass this past Saturday afternoon, in honor of the forgiveness, renewal, and the promise of a fresh start his papacy and this Easter season may hold for all of us. It didn’t hurt that our boy, after a sigh, seemed willing to brave the crowd if it meant a chance to recall his friend. So off we went, arriving early so we could get a seat with a good view of the altar and the Blessed Sacrament.

We usually sit in the front section a few rows back. Hanging from the vaulted ceiling high over and in front of the altar is a massive crucifix with a fairly graphic representation of Christ. It has always been there, in that spot. There we sat, with my boy and his iPod open to a picture of his friend. He had used the paint app to put a yellow halo on his head, and he held it up high so that it faced the Blessed Sacrament. As I reached up to lower his arm gently he looked at me in alarm, pointing to the crucifix as if seeing it for the first time.

“Is THAT Jesus?!” he said in a stage whisper. I nodded, two fingers presses to my lips to remind him to speak quietly and to keep myself from smiling.

“Is THAT the Holy Child?!” Suddenly, the connection between Christmas and Easter began to forge in his mind.

“What HAPPENED?!” I told him we would talk about it later but the questions kept coming.

“Is he dead? Who killed him? See the blood?” He turned the iPod so his angel friend could see, too. That almost did me in.

Finally, in the car I did my best to tell him the full narrative, Christmas to Easter, promising him that we will go back during Holy Week and see the stations of the Cross that tell the entire story of the Crucifixion. He was wary, and raised his hand, palm toward me.

“I’m good.” Then he thought for a minute, playing something in his head. I mentioned that we have a movie at home that tells the story of Jesus.

“Wait! I get it!” And then he did a perfect imitation of the announcer’s voice on the preview from one of his Christmas videos:

“JESUS of NAZARETH!! That’s him!” It only took, like, fifteen years.

When we returned home he bounded up the stairs to say hello to his sister. She came downstairs, laughing.

On this visit in January he didn't even notice the crucifix.

At that point he didn’t even notice the crucifix.

“What happened? He came up to my room, jumped on my bed and said church was AWESOME. He never does that when he comes home from anything, ever.” I told her everything, and she went up to his room and hugged him. A while later he emerged and called down to me, standing at the railing where I could see him.

“Mom, does Jesus make our hearts happy?”

His smile, his voice, and the way he had his hands clasped over his heart told me it wasn’t really a question.

Mother’s Day: Instant Respect!

Any holiday that results in the world being filled with flowers and slightly burnt toast can’t be all that bad. Our mother told me that some of the best days of her life as a mother were when her own children had kids of their own and felt the weight of responsibility that comes with holding a newborn.  She paused for emphasis and raised her hand with a flourish and proclaimed: “Instant respect!!” And she treated all of us like people all the time – no talking down – never really couching her guilt trips (there were many; they can be useful) in a way that diminished motherhood itself.

A feminist who disdained the very word, she understood the power of matriarchy and wielded its grandly. And her belief that children are gifts from God, given to us to teach us about ourselves as part of a the pursuit of the divine was probably her greatest lesson to me. She believed in everyone having a divine purpose and often said that pride was her biggest obstacle to pursuing the path laid out for her. I get that.

Mom said she had to remind herself that she could neither control nor shape the fates of her children (though that really didn’t stop her from trying) but the more powerful thing she said was that her belief in divine providence reminded her that she could neither take credit for our successes nor blame for our mistakes. And while there were times I thought that statement was a cop out, I can see how she thought that when I look at my own children; I don’t know that much more about them today than I learned in the first 24 hours in the hospital after each of them was born. They have all been so much themselves from the very first moment we met, and yes, I factored in the autism. Certainly we must give them all the tools we can to release the full potential they have; to keep them healthy and safe but most of all to help them know and understand the power and meaning of love.  It sounds simple and it’s pretty straightforward until you have that moment as a mother where the greatest love means letting go.