The full moon last night was a Blue Moon (as in the phrase ‘once in a blue moon’). I have used that expression since I first heard it from my grandmother when I was a little girl and I even know what it means. It is the second full moon in a calendar month. Well, it is…and it isn’t. As it turns out, the older meaning is the third full moon in an astronomical season with four full moons. (To make matters just the teeniest bit more exciting – or confusing – the Blue Moons that occur under these two different definitions don’t actually coincide.) A Blue Moon is a rare, and not completely predicable event. They happen about once every three years. If you are talking about the second full moon in a calendar month, the last one was August 2012 and the next one will be January 2018. Or, if you are describing the third full moon in an astronomical season, the last one was in August 2013 and the next will be in May 2016. By the second definition, last night was not actually a Blue Moon at all. [And we wonder why we end up misunderstanding one another –]
But I suddenly found myself wondering about the ‘blue’ part of that phrase because Blue doesn’t actually mean blue. Although the color blue does happen occasionally. According to many sources, the last recorded discernibly blue moon was in 1950 and was only visible in Scotland. It seems that the forest fires burning in Alberta, Canada, that year caused a dust cloud that drifted over the northern UK and made the second full moon in September actually look blue. [Other sources suggest that the last blue Blue Moon was in 1983 after the eruption of El Chichon in Mexico, or in 1980 after the eruption of Mount St Helens, or in 1991 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Everyone agrees that Krakatoa caused literal blue moons for almost two years after it erupted in 1883, and 1885 actually had two Blue Moons in one year – January and March – although all of the moons were bluish that year until the dust finally settled. Which, if you are talking about Blue Moons can get really really really confusing.]
It turns out that ‘blue’ in Blue Moon is probably a corruption of belewe – a Latin word meaning ‘betrayer’ and it is a theological term rather than an astronomical one, from a time when communication across long distances was not easy or quick. The formula for calculating the date of Easter was set in 325 by the Council of Nicea to be the Sunday following the full moon on or following the vernal equinox. The beginning of Lent was calculated backwards from Easter, but an extra, unpredictable full moon would ‘betray’ people into celebrating at the wrong time (G-d forbid!) So it was called a ‘betrayer moon’ (a belewe moon) by clerical authorities.
Personally, I am enchanted that one of them fell on the seasonal cusp between Beltane and Lughnasadh this year because I am about to return from what has felt like four months of liminal time to ‘normal’ time…and I am aware that I can use a gentle reminder to be alert to the events and experiences in my life that happen rarely and unpredictably. In fact, when I actually think about it, it turns out that ‘rare and unpredictable’ applies to most – if not all – of the moments of any life.
Four days ago, my beloved and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. The next day, I wished my brother-in-law a happy birthday. A week earlier, I had spent the night in my father’s new home for the first time. Yesterday afternoon, we had tea with our neighbors from our years as co-ministers (five Blue Moons ago.) Last night I had dinner with friends I have not seen in almost 6 years (two Blue Moons). In four days, we will be flying back to Denver and opening the door to our home for the first time since April 9. Between now and then, we will participate in another birthday, wander the byways of western Massachusetts, visit my 97 and 98 year old aunt and uncle, put one of the poppies from the amazing British art installation honoring the 100th anniversary of WWI at my grandfather’s grave… The point is, it isn’t just once in a Blue Moon that something noteworthy happens. These are weekly, daily, hourly events. They are the harvest bounty of an intentional life.
I am not sure it is humanly possible to focus fully on each such moment; there are so many and they come so fast that the circuits in our brain would overload. Perhaps we are creatures designed to go through life like a stone skipping across the surface of a lake, dipping into contact with the divine currents only briefly before lifting off again…until the moment comes when we sink into that presence finally able, perhaps, to stand so much joy and awe and wonder.
But one of the bits of wisdom I seem to have distilled from this sabbatical time is that it doesn’t matter which nanoseconds we ‘skip’ though – every single one of them is as rare as a Blue Moon. Every single one is a unique gift: a taste, a texture, a sound, a smile, a hug, a word, a laugh, a gasp of ecstasy, a prick of tears, a stab of grief, the comfort of love.
This Lughnasadh I hope to live that wisdom with just a little more awareness than last Lughnasadh. I hope to appreciate the abundance of temporal life just a little more fully. I hope to be just a little more generous in sharing my wonder, my joy, my amazement with others.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: In honor of the changing season, the slider on my home page changed and I added some new photos to the blog slider, too. Shortly after I get back to Denver, I will be reopening my Etsy shop. And watch for the give-away mid-Season. (You may want to start compiling a list of your friends and family who might be interested in subscribing to my blog.)