A Beautiful Night for an Apocalypse

Last night was the Supermoon, that time in the moon’s elliptical orbit when it is at its closest to earth and looks about 14% bigger. Last night was also a full lunar eclipse, which happened within 3 minutes of a full moon, and the sky was absolutely clear. It was also a family friendly double bill at the Drive In. And, if you think the coincidences could not continue, it was the “trunk or treat” special night at the Drive In. How cool is that?

This perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system—we call it a “Supermoon” because saying perigee-syzygy makes it sound like our lips are frozen shut—combined with an eclipse is a pretty rare event. The odds of this event in the heavens being combined with a family fun double feature with free candy thrown in are astronomical.

It was quite a night. An amazing night. An apocalyptic night, really.

blood-moon-2015-537x408There is a lot of serious stuff happening in our family right now. In the elliptical orbit of human lives, our family’s is at its apogee. Things are intense in a lot of adult ways, so my partner and I decided that we needed to do something Superfun on Supermoon eclipse night.

We were visiting family in Nova Scotia yesterday when we cooked up the plan. We bought 300 tootsie roll suckers for $10—key to most heinous plans—said our goodbyes quickly, and hopped on an earlier ferry to our Island home. The boat tossed and rolled in the Supermoon tidal shifts, but we arrived safely to shore.

At home, Nicolas’ job was to find a costume. As Kerry is a Kindergarten teacher, we have a great tickle trunk ready. Within minutes Nicolas was a Jedi—convincing enough that the children at the Drive In called him Anakin, which doesn’t bode well for his future. Kerry threw together a picnic supper—a kale and spinach salad with feta, strawberries, mandarin oranges, almonds, and Portuguese BBQ chicken (I know!). And I packed the car with sleeping bags, lawn chairs, blankets, pillows, and drinks. It’s my fault we forgot the toques.

Lunar-Eclipse-moonPrince Edward Island is a small place, so we knew five or six families at the Drive In. Nicolas took his environmentally friendly reusable shopping bag from car to car as I handed out our pretty lame suckers. And as we all milled around, laughing and meeting people, the Supermoon rose between the trees. Its clear light pierced the lingering dusk.

hotel_transylvania 2 coverBy the time the Supermoon had cleared the trees, the first film had begun. It was a fun sequel to Hotel Transylvania. Filled with a Supercast of voices, with a cameo from the indelible Mel Brookes, Hotel Transylvania 2 made the mistake of many soft sequels: it leaned too heavily on message and didn’t allow the characters to find their story. It lacked the spontaneity and “blah-bu-blah-bu-blah” of the first film. Still, a great night out and a good pairing with “trick or trunk” night at the Drive In.

The second film, begun just as a shadow was nudging its way across the Supermoon, was Pixels—coincidentally another Adam Sandler film. His films are risky, as they walk the fine line between Superlame and popcorn-shooting-out-of-the-nostril funny. This one played on nostalgia pretty heavily, so it came off all right.

Pixels is the story of an alien race that mistook film footage of the 1982 World Arcade Championship as an act of war. Naturally, the alien race created an army of classic video game characters to invade earth. It is now up to a group of Superlosers, and one pretty competent soldier who looks great in a uniform, to save the planet. The plot is crowded, the pace is manic at times, and there is one character who is so bad and out of step with the film, that he almost ruins it. But it was fun film overall, and squeaked by with only a few cringe-worthy moments.

And, of course, apocalypse is averted.

seventh sign demi moore coverMy first apocalyptic film memory was Demi Moore in The Seventh Sign. This 1980s horror show captivated me. It wasn’t Demi Moore’s best role. It pretty much butchered all the best parts of apocalyptic legends, mashing them together with the skill of a chef that puts a cheese slice on Atlantic lobster. But I still remember her enocunter with the rabbi, the moment we meet a servant of Pilate cursed with eternal life, and great chunks of ice falling from the sky. In this film, apocalypse is averted when someone does something nice for someone else.

Sophisticated, I know.

It could be that Adam Sandler and the creators of Pixels stole their narrative arc from The Seventh Sign. There is certainly more GenX angst about fullfilling one’s own life path in Pixels. But, otherwise, they dance the same dance, each with its own awkward, loping gait.

Last night was a night to think about apocalypse.

After the second film, just as the shadow was about to eclipse the moon, we pulled out of the steeplechase that is the post-Drive In commute back to Charlottetown. Instead, I drove through the back roads, away from the light pollution of city and traffic. In the quiet and the dark, my family huddled in the cold on an old country road, heads tilted to the heavens. We watched as sun and earth and Supermoon aligned. Instead of blacking out the moon, though, the eclipse caused the moon to take an orange-red tinge. It was quite beautiful.image

With crystallized matter-pixels falling from the sky in the film and the moon turning red in real life, I thought of Joel’s prophecy, as told by the Apostle Peter so long ago:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.

18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

blood-moon-in-auckland-new-zealandThis is the earliest vision of the apocalypse in the Christian era, retold just weeks after Christ’s death and resurrection on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. This passage drips of prophecy. The imagery is bracing. There is something deep and mythical and ominous about the twinned transformation of nature and social class. While the revolution of the planets seems to still, the revolution of human culture begins. No longer is the Spirit of God for the elite. Instead, the very words of the Creator of the Universe are found on the lips of page boys and washer women and the old lady across the street with all the cats.

See, although so much of our apocalyptic imagery roots itself in this moment in the book of Acts, it is there that Peter says this moment is fulfilled. Why are the Disciples speaking in tongues? Because this is what Joel said would happen, all those generations ago.

We are living in the last days. We have been for nearly two millennia.

nicholas cage left_behindWith all due respect to the Left Behind producers, the sensationalist approach to the idea of apocalypse misses much. I agree with many that the awkward acting of Nicholas Cage—in honour of the same performance by Kirk Cameron a generation before—paired with painful penmanship by the Left Behind writers could be interpreted as End Time signs.

Still, though, when we forget the root of biblical apocalypse, we miss much about the dangerous beauty of this genre. “Apocalypse” literally means “unveiling” or “uncovering.” It is the Greek word for the book of “Revelation.” Perhaps it is that we have forgotten what “velare” used to mean, so the “re” in “revelation” has no meaning. The word “apocalypse” goes back to the Greek nymph named Calypso. I would translated “apocalypse” as “un-hiding.”

Apocalyptic literature in the Jewish world was about hiding and un-hiding. At its root, it is best understood in the way that we watch movies. In Hotel Transylvania 2, “VamPop” (the vampire grandfather) and the mom are talking on facetime. Everything is fine when we are just staring at his vampyric nose. But when the camera pulls back, it is a scene of flame and terror and sirens and disaster. VamPop is in trouble.

droppedImage_2The ability of film to pull the camera back to see the big picture is one of its greatest qualities. The novelist can do this too, as the poet always had, but I want to stick with the camera for a moment. Apocalypse is like that wide angle lens on the boom. Apocalyptic literature helps us look at what is going on in the world from a cosmic angle. What happens when the Spirit falls in Acts 2? We see the results of the Spirit in that anyone can speak the word of God, regardless of social class or gender. Joel’s prophecy fills that moment with spiritual significance: it looks like a normal festival morning in Jerusalem, but there is a cosmic revolution taking place.

This is what I think about as I look up at the sky with my family. The sun is darkened. The moon turns to blood. These are the wonders in the heavens above that we have in the moment. As a shooting star cruised through the star-crowded sky—why not throw in a shooting star while we are at it?—I felt like a little bit of the veil was lifted. All the busyness and discouragement and struggle of my “adult” life came into focus. My 10 year old said, “I have never seen a sky like that in my whole life.”

Our sons and daughters will prophesy, after all.

I don’t doubt that the apocalyptic literature has some future meaning too. But when we miss the “un-hiding” aspect of these images, we miss much. Revelation 12, for example, is the story of Christ’s birth shown from the cosmic angle—the camera is pulled way back from the manger to view the moment of Christ’s birth across all the spiritual universe. Every Christmas is about spiritual warfare on an intergalactic level, though we sometimes forget.

When we take apocalyptic and make it only earthquake and lightning and heroic struggles against interstellar foes—whether on film or in pulpits—I think we miss much of what apocalypse teaches us about every day. We are a culture that delights in the fall of the mortar shells and forgets the lives snuffed out at the end. We chase celebrities and leave our lovers lonely. We vote by scandal, work for money, and mate according to the expectations of Hollywood. We are a culture bent on taking the shell of an idea and losing its heart. We are determined to throw the baby out with our distilled water.

Looking up at the night sky, stopping for these once-in-a-lifetime wonders, brings us back to the heart of things. Briefly on that clear night, the foggy state of my heart lifted for a moment. The truth of God’s strength stilled the frenetic revolutions of my worried mind. For that is the base message of all apocalyptic literature: God is in control.

I think that is Supercool.

It really was a beautiful night for an apocalypse–a tiny bit of unveiling in my cloudy world.

Note: none of these awesome photos are mine. I loved the CBC and Guardian articles on it with great slideshows.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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28 Responses to A Beautiful Night for an Apocalypse

  1. traildustfotm says:

    Brenton, I love this! You took a much abused subject and shed a wonderful light on it. Thank you. I would like to place the first bit of your article on Fellowship of the Minds, with a link to the whole piece on your blog, A Pilgrim in Narnia. But only if you grant permission.

    Like

    • Sure, no problem. Just link back and that’s cool. A couple of notes: I don’t claim copyright on the photos (or the Bible translation), and our politics probably don’t align well. Yet, if this works, that’s cool and thanks for the note of encouragement.

      Liked by 2 people

      • traildustfotm says:

        Hi Brenton,
        I know our politics are likely quite different. But our common ground in faith and literature provide a good bridge. Yours is a voice of sanity that I personally respect. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

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  3. Thanks for this, Brenton. It’s wonderful!

    Like

  4. kelliepage says:

    Loved the quiet, deep-felt emotion that gently moved through my spirit upon reading this piece. Thank you, Brenton, for allowing me a piece of your spirit.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A fine evocation and exploring of the vividness (and, somehow, lastingness) of the passing-away.

    “In the quiet and the dark, my family huddled in the cold on an old country road, heads tilted to the heavens” got me thinking how Anne Shirley Blythe and her dear ones (because L.M. Montgomery and hers) would have enjoyed the ‘blood moon’ of 1910 if it were as visible on PEI.

    And “Every Christmas is about spiritual warfare on an intergalactic level, though we sometimes forget” got me thinking of the seasonal liturgical use of those wonderfully atmospheric verses of Wisdom 18:14-15: “For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction.”

    “For that is the base message of all apocalyptic literature: God is in control.” Yes, wonderfully, amid the tender honesty about the devastating shocks and agonizing trials of not only injustice, violence, and destruction but also (for us) of loss through mere mutability.

    Like

    • I loved reading Wisdom early in my work–I read it in Greek, though not all of it that way. Wisdom of Solomon almost tempted me to intertestemental work as a scholar.
      Is it the Prayer of Manesseh that says, “I bow the knees of my heart”? Wow.
      Mutability. Time to restore some of those medieval conversations that get lost in translation.

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Yes, the Wisdom of Solomon is an amazing book! I was rereading in Lewis’s Letters (1988) once, and, getting to the 17 December 1955 one to Fr. Peter Milward about some of the Grail literature, I was struck by his accenting “The resemblance of the Grail to Manna (see, I think, Wisdom: the reference is at Cambridge.)” That had gone right over my head before – until, in between, rereading Wisdom, I had been struck by it myself (16:20-29)!

        By the way, Fr. Peter Milward will turn 90 in a few days, but I’m not sure know how best to send him greetings (I do not negotiate Japanese websites well, even when they are partly in English, like that of his old university – aptly named Sophia!). Have you happened to read his Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008), his online autobiography, linked from his Wikipedia article? I’ve made an enjoyable start, though the color combination after the first chapter is such that I have to copy into a word document to read easily – which the webmaster in chapter zero, “About PMGenesis”, says you may… Come to think of it, perhaps via the webmaster would be the best way to attempt birthday greetings!

        Like

        • Are you friends with Fr. Milward?
          I actually lived in Japan. He was one of the people I would have hunted down–thought I never imagined he would still be alive now.
          If you talk to him, I could send him a bad Japanese greeting!
          I just read that letter a month ago and was thinking about grail as manna. But I had not connected it well. What connected for you in Wis?

          Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            No, I’ve never had contact with him, yet – I just happened to look him up in Wikipedia in the way one does, and there was a birth date and the link to the autobiography! I think I may just try to e-mail birthday greetings via the webmaster – why don’t you do so, too? (I have no idea how you e-mail a Japanese greeting: phonetic transcription?)

            What struck me in Wisdom 16 were “having in it all that is delicious, and the sweetness of every taste” (v. 20) and “Therefore even then it was transformed into all things, and was obedient to thy grace that nourisheth all, according to the will of them that desired it of thee” (v. 25) and the idea of the Grail appearing gave each the food which he preferred. (That’s quoting Douay-Rheims, online, for convenience: I got a good deal on an Oxford book with the Greek text and 7 translations on every two-page opening – so I can really puzzle over things!)

            It is also interesting to compare that “having in it all” and “it was transformed into all things” with the Stone in Williams’s novel, Many Dimensions (and the discussion of “the End of Desire” there), which I think, among other things, plays with a possible meaning of the Grail as Stone in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.

            Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I would expect so, though I cannot recall a positive reference. Readings from it turn up in the Book of Common Prayer “Table of Lessons” from Evening Prayer on 27 October through 2 November, so he might even have read or heard those regularly throughout his life, though nothing from chapter 16 is among them – but that might get you wanting to read the rest of it nonetheless.

            Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            And, a fortnight after we were discussing the Wisdom of Solomon, and what Williams might have known and read, this, about a discovery with respect to (part of) the King James Version!:

            http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1619318.ece

            Lewis’s wonderful discussion of Bible translations in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century makes me think this discovery would have thoroughly interested and delighted him.

            Like

  6. Bill says:

    Beautifully written. My favorite bit: “We chase celebrities and leave our lovers lonely. We vote by scandal, work for money, and mate according to the expectations of Hollywood. We are a culture bent on taking the shell of an idea and losing its heart.” A sad reality. May the day soon come when we look back on this culture, wondering where we went wrong and relieved that we found our way back to the right path.

    Like

    • Oh, thanks for the note, Bill. That’s a line I wrote, then my computer crashed, and again. As a writer, that is painful. We always think we grabbed it in the magical moment before. Yet I suspect it sits better over time.
      I am a cultural resister on this point. I’m glad others are doing the same (and better).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. loritischler says:

    Lunar ecstasy. Super cool!

    Like

  8. sdorman2014 says:

    insightful, amazing. thank you.

    Like

  9. L.A. Smith says:

    Cloudy night here, boo hoo! But thanks for this post, and your insights into apocalypse. That night you had “eyes to see” – thanks for sharing with us your insights.

    Like

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