Thursday, February 23, 2012


Tonight we will watch, drinks in hand, on the sunset porch as the Sun goes down. If the western horizon is clear, as it promises to be, we have a chance to see a 24-hour-old Moon, about as slim a new Moon as one can hope to see, and then the "old Moon in the new Moon's arms," Selene demur in Earthshine.

Mercury will be there too, but lower yet, closer to the horizon and probably unattainable. But Venus and Jupiter will chase the Moon to its due-west setting, blazing away in the fading dusk with no stars as competition.

I mentioned John Updike yesterday. I remember something he wrote long ago in an anthology called The Meaning of Life, published by Life Magazine: "Ancient religion and modern science agree: We are here to give praise. Or, to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention."

So this evening I will attend, watching for a slip of Moon as thin as an eyelash, and, seeing it (I hope), give praise, nod hallelujah, breathe a silent Te Deum of the secular spirit.

That's another reason I've always liked Updike. Some other modern authors salt their prose with science, usually with reference to things like entropy or the uncertainty principle, things with vague, half-understood metaphorical possibilities. Updike could tease a metaphor from something as basic as inertia, elasticity, or the curvature of the Earth, -- or Earthshine on a crescent Moon. He understood the spirit of science -- its catlike curiosity, its metaphorical legerdemain, its dumbstruck awe -- better than many scientists.

When Updike says that science is praise, I concur. When he says that science means paying attention, I nod in agreement. When he suggests that we are here to praise (which supposes paying attention) he has stated a truth that both scientists and religious folks might comfortably share.

So this evening, I will fill my wine glass, take up my position on the sunset porch, and sing with the Psalmist: "When I behold the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place, what is man that you should be mindful of him?"

What, indeed?