“. . .the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.” Psalm 121:5
It may be hard to believe but the kid’s classic, Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, has been lying around kids' bedrooms for almost sixty years. My grandson, who wasn’t the easiest chap to get off to sleep, absolutely loved it. Goodnight Moon is a sweet old mood-enhancer whose magic somehow prompts delightful sleepiness.
For years, if we were out in the darkness, he'd search the sky. “Way da moon?” he’d say, as if he had to be sure it was up there watching over us.
Maybe it’s that book that makes me wonder about this line from psalm 121. Goodnight Moon such a meditative story that just thinking about it makes me want to yawn. It’s difficult for me to remember moments in my life, or even in story, when the moon, as the psalmist here seems to suggest, actually made me scared.
Darkness, surely. I was never quite as scared as I was one night on the shore of Lake Michigan, when, with a couple of other boys, we were completely lost in rolling sand dunes. Truth be known, we weren’t completely lost—we couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile from the lake. But we were out somewhere in the dunes—I have no idea why—when, in the darkness, we realized we had no idea where to go to get out. I was scared witless and spitless, even though I’m sure I never admitted it.
But I don’t remember the moon playing any role whatsoever in that fear. Darkness lit up our nerves, sheer darkness. The moon would have been a blessing.
To some Hindus, the moon is full of soma, an elixir of immortality only gods can drink. For the Fon of Abomey, in the Republic of Benin, Africa, Mawu, the goddess of the Moon, is an old mother who lives in the West and brings with her cool temps amid torrid summers, the goddess of night and joy and motherhood. As those t-shirts used to proclaim: “No fear.”
One night years ago up above Chamberlain, South Dakota, a number of us laid in the grass and watched the stars appear, the moon lighting the world bountifully overhead. An astronomer friend explained ancient mythologies as their stories appeared above us—it was pure joy. On our way down the steep hill we’d climbed to get there, the footing was treacherous because sheer darkness had arrived, even though we hadn’t noticed it. Once, a guy fell and rolled down a ways. That was a little scary. Thank goodness for the moon. Would have been much tougher without it.
Werewolves wail at it, and coyotes and real wolves, for that matter, which reminds me of an oil painting that inspired Willa Cather, in My Antonia, to tell a horrible tale about a wedding party entirely devoured by ravenous wolves—at night, of course. But I don’t remember moonlight in that painting. Even as a sliver, it’s hard for me to see the moon as anything but beautiful, sleek.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been afraid of the moon, but we all know fear, as did the psalmist. We all know the paralysis fear creates in us, even if it arrives only in our dreams.
And we all know the terrors of the darkness, the times when no matter what we try, we simply can’t find our way. At one time or another in our lives, everyone knows what it’s like to wander around with no light, with no direction, with no way home.
To those of who know that kind of loss, this psalm, Psalm 121, is special gift, a blessing. God is watching us always, even in the dark, even in light of the moon. So, well, Goodnight Moon.