Maybe because it involved fire, maybe because they all had something to burn, they said yes.
I’d never paid much attention to the cycles of the moon, how my earthly body might be in tune with this celestial body. I come from a tradition of sun-worshippers, but other cultures use lunar cycles to set time and give meaning to the changefulness of life.
The new moon, or the moment of darkness between waning and waxing, marks the beginning of the month in the Hebrew and Chinese calendars, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac says that it’s the best time to plant vegetables that bear fruit above ground.
Burn what no longer serves you, and say a prayer for what you want to grow, wise women suggest, because this is the order of the universe. One cycle fades, another emerges.
It was raining steadily outside. Diana and I had changed out of wet clothes into pajamas. The air hung with the perfume of ginger, garlic, and broth from the soup we had for dinner.
“You’re going to burn your enemies?” Luke asked me.
My list was two pages long. I ripped it out of my journal as the kids quandaried over what to put down. “I wrote about my fears,” I told them, “and thoughts that make me feel insecure.”
The new moon is also called the dark moon, because it looks as black as the night sky.
I didn’t expect the boys, now 13 and 10, to start looking for small writing paper in the pie chest. Diana paced around the playroom, reminding us that we weren’t going to tell anyone what we wrote.
They used to say this in church: Give your worries to God. Lay them down at His feet.
How did this work? I wondered. I was too ashamed to tell God things like, “I’m not even sure you exist.”
When I was about 8 years old, my Southern Baptist grandmother gave me a daily Bible verse tear-off calendar. I peeked ahead to see what message had been selected for my birthday. It was Matthew 8:26: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?”
My life has been a dance of trying to hide what I was afraid had already been revealed.
Mark’s crushed paper ball made the candle flame muscle up and arc. Luke’s crumpled piece made a broad wall of light.
I scrolled my pages and touched them to the flame. They became a gray log, and I thought of fallen trees in the woods, bark peeling off in curls.
When Diana placed her squared folded sheet into the pillar candle, the schoolgirl blue lines stayed neat while frilly waves of sunset orange and night black advanced.
The earth knows how to transform, how to receive and dissolve. This beautiful merciful destroyer.
Wax came spilling down, running willy-nilly over the table. We put out the fires with splashes of water, then celebrated with rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream. Our table looked like a moonscape, or a funeral pyre. An after-party.
A few hours later when the last sunlight had leaked from the sky, Diana came downstairs, eyes blinking in the kitchen glare where Mark was making a poster on the Roman military. She said she was hot, but she pulled me close.
I climbed into bed with her, and she clutched my shirt with one hand, burying her head into my chest. “I said I wanted to give up being scared of the dark but I’m still scared,” she whispered. “Even more than before.”
“When you look something in the eye,” I said, “it can be more scary than when you were running away.” And I told myself as I spoke to her, “Sometimes we need to give it more time. Trust that it’s working even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.”
Faith is hard to hold in a place where magic isn’t real if it can’t be proven with test tubes and microscopes. When we can’t see all that is unfolding: the seeds that are growing underearth, the ghosts collapsing into the night.
“You should go,” Diana said when we heard my husband unlocking the front door and looking for me.
Dov’è la Mamma? he called up the stairs.
“He’s missing you,” she said. “I’ll be okay with the light on.”
My new moon prayer:
Take away my doubt and my shame, and replace it with compassion and trust as steady as the sun.
Show me how to stand in my own light, even when the world is bright and actionful.
Open my perception to the signs and symbols that are always here, pointing me where I need to go.