Waning crescent? Is that the right term? It was only last week that I discovered the meaning of “gibbous.” Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the copy of Old Moore’s Almanack bought by my grandmother every year. I would have known more about the names of the phases of the moon. Whatever the correct term, only a slim crescent of the moon remained in the morning sky above Gloucestershire this morning.
A line from the distant past surfaced, “Till moons shall wax and wane no more.” From a hymn learned in primary school, the words were immediately memorable:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
doth its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.
Perhaps they were not the best of literature, but the lines possessed imagery with the power to capture the attention of a boy wholly indifferent to the church. No-one we knew went to church, no-one was religious, but the hymns and the Scripture lessons in our classroom linger in the memory more than five decades later.
Perhaps the lines linger because the drew upon the images with which we were familiar. Shore to shore, of course, for us, meant from the Bristol Channel on the north Somerset coast to the English Channel on the Dorset coast. Phases of the moon were important to farming life, checking livestock, working until late hours, were easier with a full moon in a clear sky.
Perhaps the lines remain because religious language was different. It was old fashioned, it was thoroughly other than the Somerset dialect we spoke, a dialect filled with elisions and bad grammar. Religious language was about things we did not understand, about things that could not be explained by even our wise teachers.
In reducing religious language to the everyday, to the simple, to the banal, those in the church who sought to promote a dumbed-down Christianity lost the attention of children who, if nothing else, would have remembered what they had been taught at school.
Now, none of those who sit in the Year 7 classrooms seem able to recall the religion taught to them in primary school, even those who have been at Church of England schools. Perhaps they recall the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps they can tell the odd story from the life of Jesus, but moons that wax and wane are a thing of the long past and with their loss the church has lost the capacity to appeal to the imagination.