Twenty-two people stood at the place called “Wedding Rock,” perched high above Tiburon overlooking the San Francisco Bay and Angel Island. Looking west and south, you see Mt. Tam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Twin Peaks, and looking south and east, you see Angel Island, Oakland, and Berkeley. Those of us arriving early for the moonrise service collected ourselves. Silently we inhaled, borrowing breath from the breeze, and just as silently we exhaled, repaying the loan. I, as were all of us, was astounded yet again at the beauty of this place we call home.
“Why don’t we wander the hills more often, why do we get so busy we forget to notice?” we asked.
With the congregation fully assembled, yet still silent, the sun dropped below the Marin Headlands ridgeline, leaving behind an incandescent filament of fog. We sang Ubi Caritas (Where charity and love are, God is there), and recited the chant of the Benedicte Aotearoa (Give thanks and praise to God, from the New Zealand Prayer Book),
“Sunrise and sunset, night and day: give to our God your thanks and praise. … Rabbits and coyote, moths and dogs, ravens and sparrow and finch and hawk, give to our God your thanks and praise.”
We meditated on mountains and Transfiguration, on light and on things Divine. We heard that the name of God is not to be uttered, but breathed, inhaled and exhaled, each such breath a prayer. As dusk fell, we sang Jubilate Deo (Rejoice in God), turned eastward, and waited. We waited and watched until, at last, someone gasped. The bare edge of the moon, as a golden coin, peaked from behind the Berkeley horizon. The moon astounded us. God astounded us, and the exhale of breath and God escaped our lungs, yet pulled itself back in, in wonder.
The night before the moonrise service, my daughter, Tilly, and I slept in a tent in our backyard. The lunar eclipse was expected at 3:25 am, so I set the alarm for 3:15 am. We didn’t want to miss it! At 3:15 am, the moon reflected a hint of red, and was 90% eclipsed. Ten minutes later, when fully eclipsed, the moon was still visible – not as blood red as we had hoped, but nonetheless visible because of the sunlight refracted around the earth’s perimeter – bent red light, not blue or yellow – reached the moon. As the moon was eclipsed, its surface dropped by 400 degrees.
I don’t know how anyone can experience nature and not believe they have experienced God. Some people express doubts about God because of the expanse of the heavens, but – as someone once said – I can’t see the expanse of the heavens and not see God. The enormity of it all, and my own finitude. The Apostle Paul felt the same way: “For the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” (Rom. 1:20, KJV) In other words, proof of God emanates from nature.
Perhaps that is why so many people say they enjoy their church on Sunday mornings in nature. Without arguing the need for community worship, and not just individualism, their point is well-taken.
So as you consider the turn of the season, the turn of autumn into late autumn and into winter, and the seasons of life, consider also the cadence of life and the grace of creation. Locate your soul not only in breath, but in God.