Monday, March 05, 2007

Sunrise, Moonset

Last week I went to a place on the coast to do some concentrated work on a new book, free from the distractions of telephones and the dozens of details daily demanding attention. The place is an old Catholic mission originally built in the 19th century and run mostly by Capuchins, but now run by diocesan clergy. It is located in a tiny town of about 250 souls. The view from the kitchen window is a small back yard and the Pacific Ocean.

On Saturday, I was planning to sleep just a little later than usual, since most of my work for that week was done. But I woke up at 4:00 AM, with moonlight streaming through the curtains. The weather had been mostly cold and rainy during the week (kept me attentive to my work!), but it cleared up on Saturday. I looked out the window and saw the light of the full moon on the water and knew that this was why I had been awakened. I went out into the chilly pre-dawn darkness sat on a little bench on a bluff where I could get a good view. I gazed at the mesmerizing moonlight on the surface of the sea. All was calm, all was bright. The surf was light, and its sound was as if to say: Shhh! Listen…

I remained in the awesome early morning silence for some time, feeling almost as if I had stumbled upon some secret tryst between moon and sea, and I dared not disturb them. The peace and the stillness were palpable, and the gentle play of the silvery light on the water was soothing. The only sound was the surf; I could have been the only man on earth moments after the Lord God had created the sea and the stars.

After a while I went in to pray Matins, and then I went out to check on the moon again. I don’t often have the chance to see the moon set over the ocean, so I wanted to take my fill of its awesome beauty. By this time it was a large, golden orb, slipping slowly down to the horizon, and I marveled as it disappeared behind the morning mist. The moon’s shift had finished, and it was time for the sun to begin his day’s labors. The sun rose as the moon set, casting pink hues across the newborn sky. God called the darkness Night, and the light He called Day. The heavens were telling of his glory.

I myself went from glory to glory, for as the moon set and the sun rose, I went back into the church to offer the Divine Liturgy, the Mystical Sacrifice, to meet the Creator of all I had just seen, to crown the cosmic celebration with communion in the deified flesh and blood of the incarnate Son of God. At one point I turned around to bless and was greeted with sunlit stained glass sending brilliant colors throughout the chilly yet intimate church. As I approached the time of Communion, I was struck by the preface to the Lord’s Prayer in which “we dare to call You, O God of Heaven, Father, and say…” It was a moment of revelation, of communion before Communion. All the grandeur and glory I had witnessed, all the wonders and beauty, all the awe-inspiring power came from the hand of the infinite Omnipresence sustaining the universe—whom I was invited to call “Father.” The Creator of the ocean, of the sun and moon, called me his son. I could not restrain the tears.

After the Liturgy, I went out to the front porch to make my thanksgiving. Welcoming me was a warm, brilliant sun and a joyous choir of songbirds. My heart sang with them as I gave thanks unto the Lord. Before I returned to the monastery I went out to look at the ocean again for a while. By this time the water was a bright, deep blue, and the sky was streaked with a few light clouds. The back yard was sporting hundreds of yellow flowers. As the sun warmed my back, a light, cool breeze filled me with a breath of Paradise. It is not easy to get up and walk away from this, but it was time for me to return home.

I was not too eager to return to all the inevitable responsibilities and difficulties I would face when “ordinary” life resumed, so I asked the Lord for a word to guide me through this transition. I opened the Bible and read: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Mt. 28:20). So wherever I go in this world, be it a paradise or a purgatory, He will be with me. The One who made the Ocean is my Father, and his sun and moon rise and set daily as tokens of his providence and love. I have only to remember what I have seen and heard and felt, and the cosmic liturgy will resume.