What might we gain from considering ourselves in the same way, affected by both our earthly presence and the influence of the moon?
For millenia, we didn’t know what we looked like. As a planet, I mean. Until the 1940s, when a sub-orbital spacecraft snapped the first blurry images of Earth. Soon, color space photography captivated human eyes, showing us more and more of ourselves. We glimpsed our massive bright blue waters and the wisps of our cloud formations hovering over green and brown lands.
And then in 1972 a crewmember of Apollo 17 snapped the famous image referred to as The Blue Marble. By seeing our full planetness, humans connected to the Earth in new ways and with greater concern, creating the Environmental Protection Act and Earth Day, among other methods to address our misdeeds against our home.
Space exploration also raised spiritual questions. My father once described to me the quandary of being a pastor when the first pictures from outer space exploded onto magazine covers. Well-meaning church folk inquired of him: If this is what the planet looks like, where is heaven?
Upon reflection, it’s not really a shocking question. Planets and theology have been interlinked for eons in most cultures. Ancient Greeks, Incans, and Egyptians believed that the moon and other celestial objects were deities. And a surprising number of myths offer animal connections to the moon. In China, the Moon Rabbit, a companion of the planet’s goddess, was responsible for creating the elixir of life. The Buddhist Jakata tales include a Bodhisattva bunny. Across the globe, Mesoamerican stories also feature lunar rabbits. A Cree story suggests that on clear nights, one can even be seen riding the Moon.
Ponderings about moon animals are not limited to the ancients. Amusingly, in 1853—in what is now referred to as The Great Moon Hoax—a New York newspaper printed a six-article series revealing a fantastic discovery. According to The Sun, a well-known astronomer viewed unicorns, goats, bison, tail-less beavers, and bat people on the moon’s surface amidst grand temples, tall trees, and the shores of the Bay of Rainbows. One of the articles reported a “universal state of amity among all classes of lunar creatures, and the apparent absence of carnivorous or ferocious creatures.” Indeed, in The Sun the moon sounded a lot like ... heaven.
Once humans landed on the moon, NASA’s astrobiologists performed 300 experiments looking for life. But alas, they reported that extraterrestrials were not present. And so most talk of animals on the moon ceased, ponderings now relegated back to sci-fi shows and novels.
Meanwhile, scientists assembled tortoises, apes, dogs, mice, frogs, and perhaps unsurprisingly, rabbits, launching them into space to see what would happen. And they sent some human animals, too. These pioneers became dual citizens—at least orbitally and temporarily—of two astronomical bodies.
What might we gain from considering ourselves in the same way, affected by both our earthly presence and the influence of the moon? Here are a few thought-starters.
INFLUENCE IS OFTEN INVISIBLE. The moon is an undeniable part of our life. It affects the number of hours in our days and the length of our seasons. It keeps our axial wobble in check. And it moderates the ocean tides, affecting not only people but all sea life. We are influenced constantly by forces we don’t think about. What we do affects beings we don’t know.
Reflection: How can I tune in more keenly to my influence?
BALANCE MACRO AND MICRO. The Blue Marble helped humans appreciate a bigger picture of shared connection. On the other hand, it glossed over the incredible multispeciesness of our planet. Humans make up only 0.01 per- cent of life on Earth, yet speak of the planet as if it is solely for us. To come to interspecies balance requires us to consider our language and seek more knowledge. Instead of speaking of “enjoying nature,” we need to recognize the eastern chipmunk, nine-banded armadillo, and snowshoe hare. Rather than merely “loving the ocean,” we can learn about the hourglass dolphin, blue crab, and tiger prawn.
Reflection: Can recognizing individuals rather than habitats help me balance the needs of 100 percent of life?
DITCH THE TERM ALIEN. Defining a being by focusing on differences rather than similarities sets us up for bias and discrimination. At the deepest essence, all life was formed out of stardust. While evolution and our parents helped, 99 percent of what makes our bodies was created initially in the heart of a star. When we were born, we had no idea we were individuals. We were awash in interconnectedness until we were taught how to be a me and what was a you.
Reflection: Can reconnecting to shared origins help me jettison fear of the other on Earth and throughout the universe?
RECONSIDER THE USE OF OTHER SPECIES. Laika, the first dog to orbit space, was a stray found on the streets of Moscow. She was launched in Sputnik 2 with one meal and seven days’ worth of oxygen. Sadly, humans have sent many other beings into space on one-way trips. To be a planetary being requires looking critically at how we use each other.
Reflection: How can I help topple existing hierarchies that place one being in unbalanced power over another?
HONOR OURSELVES AS MOON-IMALS. To become citizens of the universe, not just a single planet, is to see more than mystical energy, geology, or beauty when we stare up into a radiant night sky. It is to utter reverently under our deepest breath, “I am part of that.”