Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years
Several years in early December ago my cub scout packs wanted to do an astronomical activity. We agreed to meet in a field with telescopes. I said I’d bring star maps.
I knew very little about the skygazing. (Conversation from when I was younger man — Friend: Girls really like it when you can point out the stars to them. Me: why would a girl care that a star was F-type main sequence?) But I got some online resources and some dark blue poster board and painstakingly painted out various constellations in luminescent paint so that when you held each board up the constellation on it would be in the proper orientation to the sky, making it easier to stop.
A heavy snow cancelled the activity.
The snow didn’t cancel what I had learned. I started popping outside a few nights a week for a few minutes for the pleasure of seeing the constellations and the stars. After a while I figured out that phases of the moon corresponded to its methodical movement across the sky. Somehow I had never learned this before. I began to experience the order of the heavens. It made me happier than I was.
Most religions have a astronomical and calendrical tone. Mormons less than most, because we don’t have a yearly liturgy as such. But the symbolism of the sun, the moon, and the stars are part of our creation account and are deeply intertwined with our view of the afterlife. Uniquely LDS scriptures even state, in some sense, that the order of the heavens *is* the order of heaven.
While religion responds to the need for cosmic order in the sky and in our calendars, it didn’t create it. It’s something innate that comes from seeing the succession of the seasons and from looking into a night sky.
Bruce Charlton argues that modernity’s loss of its religious heritage is alienating because it means the weekly calendar no longer makes sense. Probably true. But the monthly calendar hasn’t made sense for even longer than that, because we’ve lost the history and the classics that help to understand where it comes from. And even if those were regained, it would be hard to truly understand the months without managing C.S. Lewis’ feat of not dismissing the old time myths out of hand as just silly fictions.