Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Wonders of Two Moons

Sunday, September 27, 2015 - 7:43 p.m. PDT
(Brightened slightly to show detail.)
Sunday, September 27, 2015 – Some have said that the moon is thirty thousand miles closer than its usual average. Thirty thousand miles is actually a bit over the total difference between perigee (“super-moon” proximity) and apogee (when it appears smallest because it is farthest away). So, since the average is 238,900 miles, the moon was still over 225,000 miles away on Sunday night. By mid-month, it will again be more than 250,000 miles away.

For a photographer, the size difference is relatively insignificant. The greatest obstacle is still the same: the atmosphere, its pollutants, weather-related haze, or a small band of clouds may obscure every attempt at capturing “lunar events.” By that, especially this past week, is meant the total eclipse Sunday, and the full moon on the following night.

Seeing in the Dark – Part One
During the eclipse, I worked to get the right settings for the aperture, exposure, focus, and tripod. As the moon rose above the horizon, it also began to disappear as the shadow of the earth glided slowly up the familiar face of “the man in the moon.” Before long he was only barely visible to the naked eye, red with the effects of the light’s long trip through the curve of our atmosphere, still somewhat shaded by the smoke from smoldering forests near and far. The camera was doing a better job than I was of penetrating the haze and accumulating the light of several seconds at a time. But then, I noticed that my eye was doing a better job of something I had not anticipated.
Sunday, September 27, 2015 - 8:05 p.m. PDT
(Pretty much just as it was. Be sure to see it full-sized.)

Looking away from the moon, I realized I could see far many more stars than were usually apparent. I could even see a different kind of haze directly above me in the bright band of The Milky Way. The eclipsed moon being darkened, my eyes opened wider to admit a far greater spectrum. Even the distant lights of farms and ranches well across the Pit Valley and miles away down Dee Knoch Road stood out in sharper contrast to the blackness between them.

Looking at my photo of the more distant star-field, a friend commented that he didn’t recognize the constellations. I replied that neither did I, since the patterns were made up of stars we wouldn’t usually see and, given the very long lens I was using, they probably resided within other constellations we would usually be looking at, paying little attention to the stars of lesser magnitude within and around them.

Seeing in the Dark – Part Two
The following night was as near the exact opposite as possible in this super-moon event. I decided to contrast the challenge of capturing such a dimly lit face with the challenge of bringing out the details of the moon’s surface when my naked eye saw only the bright white circle against the otherwise, apparently black night sky. The same issues of aperture, exposure, and focus were again made easier by using the tripod, but it was less necessary than the night before. The length of the exposures was far shorter. Still, my attention was again centered on only the slightest few degrees in the vast reach of the night sky. At least, it was for a while.

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 8:54 p.m. PDT
(Darkened slightly to show detail.)
Before long, though, I began to notice other points of light. The moon reflected off the surface of the water flowing down the Pit River, but also on the partially-flooded rice paddies, and strangely off of other items at various points along the valley. The spray, the pipes, and the wheels of the wheel-lines on a ranch miles away were glittering. Metal roofed barns glowed. The white farmhouse closest to us reflected moonlight against the windshields of the trucks parked nearby. Again, as my eyes adjusted, more and more of the stands of trees, fence lines, and out buildings became apparent.

Shifting My Focus
The super-moon got top billing this past weekend. Rightly so, because it is rare to have the various elements coincide. But moon is just as dark once each month, for the entire night. And it is, if only slightly smaller, just as bright just as often. There have been times when I noticed the brightness of the night sky through the windows of my home. There were also times before the need for security lighting when I noticed that it seemed much darker than usual as I walked by braille from the door of my office to the door of my car. But I rarely stopped to look at the moon, much less at all the other things that it’s brightness or darkness made more visible.

Truth be told, I have to admit, sadly, that the same will probably continue to be my habit. Most of the time I don’t stop to smell the roses, much less gaze at the moon. And, as a photographer, I’m known for what and how I see things, too. But taking more time to relax and enjoy the scenery is not the lesson I took away from my sojourns on the deck these past two nights.

An Allegorical Application
The sense of God’s presence is rarely so absent as it was at times in the earliest years of my walk with Christ. It takes more to amaze me, too, at what He chooses to do in my life, whether miraculously or mundanely. But what I do find waxing and waning is my perception of whether He is accomplishing His purpose through me.

September 28, 2015 - 9:04 p.m. PDT
(Pretty much just as it was.
Also nice full-sized.)
The tangible results of pastoral ministry definitely ebb and flood. There are times when, if one were to judge from attendance, finances, conversions/baptisms, or signs of personal approval from those we love, that we would be convinced of our abject failure. These times are interspersed with moments that might otherwise affect us, making us feel like God’s best, most precious gift to those we are called to serve. Neither is an accurate estimation, of course. But it can feel that way, or both ways, sometimes within hours of each other.

I am in a particularly dark season at the moment. Some desperately want me to have the answer, or the resources, or whatever else would alleviate their circumstances, and I know of nothing that will change the way things are for them (other than a sovereign God’s answer to prayer, of course). There are others, however, whose needs I see, for whom I have clear answers and ample resources that three decades of experience tells me would be effective in their circumstances. But, as yet, they are still pursuing other remedies, other anxieties, other hopelessness, and other self-directed self-help strategies.

I have also known seasons of great brightness when I have celebrated with those who have seen life events of brilliant magnitude, miraculous interventions against impossible odds, and sudden reversals of long-held patterns of dysfunction or addiction. As you can imagine, I like these seasons better.

September 28, 2015 - 9:18 p.m. PDT (Pretty much just as it was. This one is worth seeing full-sized, too.)
But in either one, the question that the two moons raises for me is this: whether in the greatest possible brightness or the nearly invisible darkness, what else is there that I should be looking at? As regular readers may have noticed, I have been contemplating The Beatitudes quite a lot lately. In each, Jesus states an aspect of the human condition that most would evaluate as darkness: being poor in spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting, and being persecuted, but also encountering the personal expense of being gently, merciful, pure in heart, or peacemakers. The shining brilliance of life is not just the opposite of these conditions, but they can be seen in the results of each condition, too. Those who embody these traits possess the kingdom of God, they are comforted, they inherit the earth, etc.

So, if not to the circumstances in which I find myself, not in the results and consequences that are promised to those The Beatitudes describe, where else could I look? Instead of my personal perspective on the brightness or darkness, I might be wiser to shift my focus, to see what else Jesus might show me if I overcome my preoccupation with everything that usually clamors for top-billing. It would be cliché to say that I need to look more intently at Jesus. It is still true. But that is only part of the challenge. To look at Jesus is to look at those He has called me to serve, and see, perhaps, something different in and about them than the brightness or darkness of any givenmoment.

After all, the brilliance that illuminated the entire landscape, the darkness that allowed innumerable stars to make themselves seen—both of these came from what only seemed to be two different moons.

1 comment:

nschaak said...

Bill, I always appreciate your writings and your thoughts. I related to this blog, and I thought of how the darkness actually brings out the other lights. I once heard that the earth is well-positioned to see the rest of the universe because it is in a relatively dark area of the universe thus enabling us to see the lights of the stars and moons. This had an impact on me. I trust God will show you great things in your season of darkness and that you will be encouraged through his Spirit and through your friends--blessings and peace to you brother!

Read Across America at Burney Elementary School: A Seussian Story

First grade teacher Ginny Casaurang leads her students in an exercise to sort real and imaginary words into two lists as they await their ...