Monday, November 14, 2016

The Man in the moon

I have a habit each evening of sitting on our deck after dinner feeling the gentle evening air and watching the phases of the moon. Once every month the moon reaches fullness, and every time is comes we can see the man in the moon. Oh I know: there really isn’t a man in the moon and you likewise know there isn’t. We’re sophisticated people and live in a sophisticated time. Scientific tools and methods have been with us all of our life. So we know what people who lived long ago didn’t know, and chuckle when we think how deluded they were.

Did you know that many “sophisticated people” in earlier times were convinced that there really was a man in the moon? Some people said that the man was banished to the moon for some crime. Christian lore commonly held that he was the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath and sentenced by God to death by stoning in the book of Numbers. Some Germanic cultures thought he was a man caught stealing from a neighbor’s hedgerow to repair his own. There is even a Roman legend that he was a sheep thief.

We laugh at such silliness but are we able to laugh at our own silliness? Now we say things like “Those people who see things differently from us are not authentic (fill in the blank.)” You could use the label of Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, atheist or any other birds of a feather. The question isn’t how we label ourselves. The meaningful question is how we don’t label ourselves and we do love our labels. We wear them like badges of superiority, distinguishing ourselves from others. The famous Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart said: “Humanity in the poorest and most despised human being is just as complete as in the Pope or the Emperor.” And we know what sort of clothing the Emperor wore—none.

We need to consider the moon, not if there is a man in it. Nobody was born with a label. Nobody will die with a label. But in between birth and death we become inordinately concerned with labels and forget about our own authentic human nature. Fundamentally the moon is the moon. Fundamentally a human is a human. If you want to stick a man in the moon then we can all have a good laugh. We don’t laugh, however when we stick a label on us. Too bad, because that too is a good joke.
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