I never know whether to keep one eye on the crawl below the news program or stay single-mindedly watching the main story and its visuals. Sometimes I use this to test my ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. Or my ability to stonewall the temptation to multi-task even while watching the news. It seriously strains my freakish curiosity to know what’s going on in the world. I often fail these tests.
A day or so ago I was diligently exercising my sense of self-control in this way when I thought I glimpsed the word “Grail” slide across the bottom of the screen. The Grail??! By the time I focused there, the news item was gone, and I was telling myself that I must have been mistaken. Surely the quest for the Grail is not a news-worthy item. Even though it should be. But I decided to wait for the cycle of “crawl headlines” to complete itself and maybe the item would return.
Secretly I began hoping it would. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was someone somewhere in the world searching for the Grail as in olden times? Or maybe someone had actually found it! I waited impatiently through crawling blips about the jobs crisis, European financial disasters, Lady Gaga’s latest thing, Rick Perry’s ignorance, flooding in the Northeast (oh, yes, I live here), and various other news bulletins that whoever controls these crawls thinks are important.
And then there it was! It returned! The story about the Grail.
Turns out, the latest moon probe is called the Grail. As I learned on more comprehensive stories about it later on, it is carrying two cameras that are going to simultaneously orbit around the moon taking pictures of the moon’s interior. The news anchor said it was like a “cat scan of the moon.” (Or those x-ray booths that look under your clothing at airport security.) And eventually we can see the photos on a special web site that’s being set up so school children can prowl around inside the moon and find out what’s really there. Sounds like a worthy project. At first.
I got to wondering whether we are tempting the fates. Are we meant to see inside the moon? In some ways, this all sounds like another example of humanity’s hubris, of reaching out to places we are not meant to go. The stories of the Grail make pretty much the same point: you can’t find the Grail and look inside and survive. Occasionally someone sees it, fails to ask important questions, and it disappears along with a lot of other things like castles, wounded kings, beautiful women, and lavish banquets. Galahad does look inside, but then soon dies and goes to heaven. It seems the message is clear: we are not meant to know what is inside the Grail.
But does that stop us? No. Browning may have said this best. “Ah, that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Or even just a moon, for that matter.
What bothers me most I think is that this may turn out to be another incidence when science “proves” something and thereby “disproves” lots of other things that were a lot more fun to think about. Remember the various studies of dreams in recent years? Scientists now know that when we dream certain synapses fire in our brains, electro-chemical whatzits reshape themselves, and our eyes roll around; and so many people now think of dreams as nothing more than just that. They don’t think that dreams come from the gods anymore. Or that they have important teachings for us.
When those school kids start browsing this moon web site will they stop thinking about green cheese? Or the Old Man? Or the rabbit? Or the cow? Or that Native American woman who was thrown up there many years ago? It’s possible the cat scan will find something truly amazing but mind numbing—in the sense that our minds will be lured into not thinking very creatively about what the moon is made of or what the strange shadows on it might be. Or what a moon is for.
There’s an old Scottish Highland custom of men taking their caps off when they saw the moon, and women curtseying. They thought of the moon as an important friend who had returned. They honored it. They prayed to it with words like these:
Hail to you, moon of the seasons. You are the most beautiful moon of moons. You are the guide of the stars, the companion of the clouds, the dear one of the heavens, the jewel of gentleness. You are the joyful maiden of my love. I lift up my eye to you. I bend my knee to you. I bow my head to you. I lift up my hands to you. I raise my voice to you. You are the jewel of the night. You are the beauty of the heavens. You are the mother of the stars. You are the child of the sun. You are the majesty of the night sky. You are the moon of moons and of blessings.
And people carried a coin in their pocket to hail “the queen of the night” when they first saw her by reaching into their pockets and turning the coin over three times. Why? Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
I worry that these young students will grow up not knowing what they’re supposed to do, and how can you get on in life if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do?
When the cat scans are available, we might start thinking that we’ve seen what’s in the Grail. And I’m afraid we will no longer say and do these things.