One summer, I was sitting at our campsite at Winslow Park, watching the sun rise over the water. It was a day without a lot of plans, so I could sit and watch the sky and water for a long time. I noticed how fast the sun seemed to move up the sky. I heard somewhere that you can estimate the time by holding up your fist sideways, and counting each fist width from the horizon to the sun as an hour. In a simpler world, it was enough to tell time by noticing where the sun was in the sky.
Curious about this, I discovered that actually, if you took a picture of the sun at noon every day for a year, you’d find that it wasn’t in the same spot at all. Rather, you’d have a photo of an elliptical shape, like a lopsided figure eight. People call this path of the sun an analemma. It is formed from the fact that our orbit is not an exact circle, but an ellipse, and our planet is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. So we have the seasons, and each day from June to December the sun rises a few minutes later, and a little bit further to the south, passing by due east on Equinox.
The natural world is full of these movements that follow their own intricate rhythms and orderly patterns. As I become aware of them, I begin to feel myself as a part of a vast dance with the sun, the earth, the moon, the stars. Our spiritual journey is such a dance—it too follows intricate rhythms and mysterious patterns. We may imagine that we are going forward, but perhaps we are dancing round and round like the moon.
Each day, the moon rises on average fifty minutes later than the previous day, and the high and low tides are changing at a similar pace. Winslow Park has a tidal beach, so we pay attention to the tides in the summer. You can only swim for about two hours before and after the high tide. One of our city friends didn’t understand about tides. We were planning to go swimming with her on a Wednesday. Two days before, she was visiting the beach and called us from there to make plans. “The sign at the beach house says high tide is at 2 p.m.,” she said, “Shall we meet at 2 on Wednesday?” We had to explain to her that the tide would be later in two days, closer to 3:40 p.m.; that it changes every day.
Once, years ago, I created a moon calendar for my stepdaughter Stephanie, who was six years old at the time. I was curious myself about why the moon was sometimes seen in the morning, and sometimes in the evening, and I thought it would be fun to learn about it and share it with her. So I tracked it, and began to understand its pattern.
The full moon rises at sunset and stays in the sky all night, setting at sunrise. Then, as the days go by, the moon begins to grow smaller, and it rises about fifty minutes later each day, until you can only see it in the morning just before and after dawn. About two weeks after the full moon, the moon rises unseen with the sun and sets invisibly with the sun. The night is dark. This is called the dark moon or the new moon. Then a day or two later, a thin waxing crescent appears in the western sky just after sunset and sets soon after. Each day it is seen in the evening for a little longer time until we come round to full moon again.