With impressive regularity, the moon orbits the earth every 28 days or so. This arrangement produces some very real effects on what happens to us and to our planetary home.
Long ago when I was in school, I learned that the mysterious white orb up in the night sky has a gravity of its own. Like every object that exists anywhere, it has a power to compel other objects in its direction. This gravity attribute of matter, which is proportional to its mass, is an important part of the mechanics of the universe. An intricate clockwork of physical events is constructed around it. Thanks to Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, among many other wise men who lived long ago, for figuring this out.
I suppose heavenly objects are a little like people in this respect–posessing a kind of magnetism that produces a sphere of influence. But among humans the attractive forces are relatable more to personality, leadership, status, charm, and such immeasurable factors, rather than a person’s size, or what the physicists call ‘mass’.
But I was thinking about the moon because of what happened two days ago when Pat and I were at the beach; it was a scary event that is indirectly related to the moon’s orbit around us. Now as I write this the moon’s glory is fading, as its master the sun renders it invisible while I watch the sun come up over the island of Maui, Hawaii. Being awake so early, I must still be on east coast time, even though its been a week ago since I was there.
But about the moon…Mostly we tend to think of gravitational forces between earth and moon in terms of the earth’s greater gravity (due to its larger mass.) We see in the night sky the moon doing its thing, sort of hanging there night after night, seeming to travel an arc across the nocturnal sky as dusk pulls its curtain of darkness across the heavens, until dawn comes blasting all that blackness away, with sunny brightness and life-giving warmth.
We are forever accustomed to the fact that our earth powerfully determines the moon’s behavior. But their cosmological connectedness works both ways. That little white sphere, so hopelessly tethered by gravity to its giant companion, exerts an unyielding, and quite predictable, effect over our worldy substance.
This dynamic is most easily observed in our oceans. Collectively, they are an immense resource that no one can measure. But the little old moon, even as small as it seems to us, pushes our oceans around like plasmic silly putty all the time, every day and night. That precocious dimpled satellite grabs, for instance, our largest planetary mass, the Pacific ocean, at one end, so to speak. As earth revolves, the moon fluffs its massive surface waters like a great oceanic blanket, wrinkling it all the way from Canada to Australia, crumpling it from Japan to Chile, and everywhere in between and beyond.
Tremendous physical forces of nature are set in motion through thousands of miles of water, producing the tides, the ocean swells, waves on the beach.
Right in the middle of all that lunar-induced force field of liquid dynamism is a string of islands we call Hawaii, which is where I now write this. Down there on the beach, which I am beginning to see again in the widening light of dawn, a wave crashes in the sand. It crashes because all that lunar-inflicted energy, which has passed in wave form across thousands of sea-miles, is suddenly resisted, and stopped, by a physical object–the beach. The mixture of energy in the wave–it may have been (guessing) 70% potential energy and 30% kinetic–is uproariously transformed into 100% (?) kinetic energy as it strikes the shore and dissipates.
A couple of days ago, Pat and I, fools that we are, happened to be standing in that Maui surf, when the awesome power of the universe, having been channeled by our feisty little tide-jerking earth-moon through the oceanic medium, came crashing against us with a force we had never heretofore experienced. The big wave came as the first among a set of whoppers; it whipped Pat and me around like rag dolls for a few fearful seconds.
Having been caught clueless in a tenacious explosion of kinetic water energy, we were lucky to recover and walk away from its ferocity, back to our little beach blanket island of sun-screen and security. Well, not lucky–actually, more like “saved.” Saved by God, who is greater, and more benevolent, than all the jerky universe that stirs us around like fruity chunks in a beach-blender. Do you think me naive to assume such a thing as God’s protection in the midst of a terrible wave? It’s okay. You may say that I’m a naive believer, but I’m not the only one.
Another believer, one from ages long ago, wrote this about that same power of the universe, (from Psalm 93):
“The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves, mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea– the Lord on high is mighty.”