Blue Moon… Or Not?
I happened to stop by one of those large box stores today, on a mission to find a tripod. Not so that I could take pictures, but the tripod that I use for my telescope has worn out and I need a new base to watch the heavens. I went in with a doubtful attitude – and I was right. They didn’t have anything even close to what I needed.
However, as I was getting ready to leave, the salesperson who was helping me asked if I wanted to watch the blue moon this weekend. I was taken by surprise – after all, a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month and I know that the last full moon was on July 23rd – lunar cycles run 28 days, give or take. Therefore, the next full moon should be on August 22nd. But that doesn’t make it a blue moon, as it isn’t the second full moon in a calendar month. Admittedly, I am afraid that I was a little assertive in my insistence that he may be mistaken.
He was insistent that it would be a blue moon and even verified it on his mobile phone. I was confused; and a little embarrassed that I had been so quick to comment on the full moon (not a blue moon) belief for the evening of August 22nd. So… as is the case so many times with me, I looked it up myself and found an obscure footnote in history about the origins of the blue moon.
Here’s what I found. It seems that there is a record of an original reference to a blue moon in the 1937 edition of the Maine Farmer’s Almanac (now defunct). The article went on to mention that there are usually 12 full moons in a given year. However, on occasion, there are 13 full moons in a calendar year. On a side note, this phenomenon created havoc with church festivals and became the basis for the idea of the number 13 being “unlucky.”
Anyway, in those years where there were 13 full moons, one of the seasons would experience four full moons. Such is the case this year. The summer season has four full moons. And guess what? It seems that the third full moon during a season of four full moons is referred to as a “blue moon.” By the way, the fourth full moon of the season would, therefore, be referred to as the “late moon.” Go figure….
So, where did the idea “once in a blue moon” come from? Well, in an article published in 1946, a Mr. Pruett mentioned that blue moons had occurred seven times in 19 years. He came to the conclusion that, if there were 13 full moons in a given year, one month must have two. He, therefore, referred to the second full moon in a given month as “blue moon.”
Mr. Pruett’s interpretation of the blue moon rule would have been forgotten but was revived in 1980 during a National Public Radio broadcast and baby boomers, the generation of which I am a member, embraced this definition of blue moons wholeheartedly. In fact, the original definition from the Maine Farmer’s Almanac had been all but forgotten and would have gone quietly into obscurity. But, it was remembered and the disagreement was on… in truth it would seem that Mr. Pruett misinterpreted the definition of a blue moon in his analysis.
By the original definition presented by the Maine almanac, the next blue moon will come on next Sunday morning at 8:02 am (EDT). The four full moons for the season have/will occur on June 24th, July 23rd, August 22nd and Sept. 20th.
Like so many other things in this world, including our various church doctrines, there is a difference of opinion as to what really constitutes a blue moon. For those who follow the original Maine definition, the next blue moon will be on August 19, 2024 – it will, once again, be the third full moon of the summer season. However, if you follow the rule of two full moons in a month, the next full moon with be on August 30, 2023 – almost a full year before the full moon based on the original Maine definition.
As in the case with theology, there are strong advocates on both sides of the argument. And like tonight’s discussion of blue moons, it can be very tricky to choose a side, as well as somewhat complicated to understand. With the benefit of hindsight and hours of study today, I’m a little embarrassed that I was so quick to blurt out my “knowledge” about blue moons without taking time to verify my position.
But you know what? My behavior was just like those who purport to know the “truth” about something even though they may be repeating something incorrectly interpreted. We should all be careful of that – acknowledging that differences of opinion, based on our understanding of definitions, can be at odds with one another.
It is important that we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s word. In tonight’s verse Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, tells us that the Holy Spirit enlightens believers. He tells the church, and us, in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
One of the many things that God has freely given us is His Word, the Bible. My encouragement this evening is that we have to be careful to prepare our hearts and our minds to make sure that we are “in the Spirit” when we read the Scripture. My prayer is that we will all be more mindful of differences of opinion and consult the Lord when there is doubt as to what true belief is. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…