The second full moon of autumn is a testament to God’s Providence
Saturday, October 28 is the second full moon of autumn which, by tradition, has in the United States been called “Hunter’s Moon.” (The first full moon is called “Harvest Moon”). The name comes from the fact that, in earlier times when food was found in field and forest, hunters would roam the woods bagging game for the barren winter months ahead. The unique feature of both Hunter’s and Harvest Moon is that they are bright and rise almost concurrently with sunset, providing an extension of light by which huntsman and trapper could stalk prey, especially those animals that might only venture out at nightfall.
I write about Hunter’s and Harvest Moons because they are another testament to God’s Providence to which modern man, because of his technology, has become blind. Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric light bulb represented for mankind not another abuse of our ecosystem (as some climate fundamentalists who led the effort to ban incandescent bulbs might think) but a revolutionary advance. People were no longer confined to illumination by daylight or dimmer sources like firelight, candles, or kerosene lamps. Prometheus might have been honored as he who stole fire for mankind, but Edison performed something of a secular miracle when his light bulb made “the night as bright as day” (Cf. Ps 139:12).
Now, I am not trying to apotheosize Edison. My goal is simpler: trying to get the reader to imagine how, for much of human history, sunrise and sunset delineated the course of labor. “As long as it is day, we must do the works… Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Jesus was obviously speaking in a different context but even He was tapping into the human experience of work tied to light to make His theological point.
In Genesis, God pronounces the creation of light and of the sun and moon “good.” No doubt the hunter that brought back an extra deer for venison thanks to the light of Hunter’s Moon concurred.
But that gratitude is not obviated by our technology. That God provided for man by the “motion of the spheres,” allowing him to prepare for winter, is good. That God gave man intellect to employ the forces of nature — electricity — to continue God’s creative work of bringing light is also “good.” And that man discovers His God not just in the Good Book but in the Book of Nature is also good.
An earlier person who knew what Hunter’s Moon is could read the Book of Nature and discover Nature’s God. I write for people who have decided to write God out of that Book of Nature. If last Sunday’s Gospel spoke of “the things of Caesar and the things of God,” today’s man wants to talk about “the things of science” and “the things of religion.” In both cases, the interlocutors forget that neither science nor Caesar have any “things” that are exclusively their own. Whatever they have also and first belongs to God.
But there is a certain mentality that would like to write God out of the natural world. That mentality would like to pretend it’s “scientific” but, in fact, it has nothing to do with science. Scientific study of the empirical and phenomenal is legitimate; to claim that the empirical and phenomenal exhaust reality is a philosophical, not a scientific claim. Science can talk about what it studies, but it cannot say anything one way or another about things that are outside its remit.
Nor do we have to turn this caveat into some form of special pleading to carve out space for faith and religion. The reader has hopefully had the experience of another person’s love. But love can’t be weighed or measured. You can’t put it in a test tube, add cobalt thiocyanate and watch love turn blue. Just because science can’t test it, does that mean love is not real? Same for faith. Same for God, who Is Love (I Jn 4:8).
There are lots of factors militating against reading God in the Book of Nature. Evolution is one. It’s one thing to postulate evolution as a way creation might have proceeded; it’s another to say evolution definitively eliminates the need for a Creator. That’s a philosophical conclusion, whose plausibility then demands testing. Is it reasonable to insist that complexities at the biological level could only be the result of random, serendipitous chance, at a probability rate greater than or equal to the Bronx Zoo’s monkey cage churning out The Complete Works of Shakespeare?
Another factor that tries to write God out of nature predates evolution but has particularly influenced Anglo-American thought: deism. It’s one thing to speak of the “autonomy of created things.” It is another to postulate that God is a Divine Watchmaker who wound up His universe, rested on the seventh day, and has been on R&R since. But anyone familiar with American history knows no small part of American thought considered deism an “enlightened” rewrite of Christianity. See Jefferson’s “Bible,” which presents Jesus without miracles.
Go back further and you get into the problems of those who pushed heliocentricity over geocentricity not because of “just the facts” but due to a philosophical agenda that reduces man to nothing special. (The Church reciprocated with the same error, albeit in reverse, sometimes sticking to geocentricity to affirm human uniqueness).
It was Stephen Barr, I think, who, writing in First Things, asked whether we framed the question wrong. That God considers mortal man special enough to “be mindful of him” (Ps 8:4-8) is not a question of being in the “center” (whatever that means in an expanding universe) but of “real estate.” The standard barb is that human beings occupy a peripheral spot on a wing of the Milky Way, atop a planet orbiting an average star far from the center of things.
But, as he notes, what’s important about real estate is not centrality but “location, location, location!” Yes, earth is not near the center of the galaxy. But that’s where star density is so much more compact that background radiation would be inimical to life as we know it. Nor are we far out orbiting some giant star, whose gravitation would likely inhibit the formation of elements like iron and copper and other minerals prerequisite to life as we know it. Our “unimportant” niche in the galaxy, he noted, actually has a Goldilocks quality: “it’s just right.”
That’s a modern read of the Book of Nature to the traces of Providence in it. A simpler time saw it in the Hunter’s Moon of autumn.
Compared to Harvest Moon a month ago, the days are noticeably shorter and cooler. The field’s gleanings should already be stored in the barn. The Harvest Moon is often a lambent gold; Hunter’s Moon is usually a bright white, its magnitude increasing visibility in forest glen where dusk and temperatures both fall earlier than a month ago. By now the cool nights have taken all but the hardiest plants. I ventured back into gardening this year after decades, planting morning glories and four o’clocks on my balcony. Recently I discovered them all slumped over: the longer, colder nights were not for them. Soon, Jack Frost will deliver his final, lethal kiss to dispatch even the fringed gentian, whom William Cullen Bryant saluted for “wait[ing] late and com[ing] alone/When woods are bare and birds are flown/And frosts and shortening days portend/The aged year is near his end.”
The woodsman in the forest under Hunter’s Moon feels a distinct chill the farmer beneath Harvest Moon might not have noticed. The year’s days are numbered. Hunter’s Moon illumines a “Twilight, with one star to lamp her by/Walk[ing] with the Wind that haunts the hills and shores” (Madison Julius Cawein). But, under the moonlight of that brisk night, he bears home the meat that provides sustenance and warmth… until the abstaining days of Lent augur the coming of spring and new life.
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