In June of last year, I had the privilege of participating in an “Earth Honoring Faith” Seminar at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM. The week consisted of interactive workshops that showed that Faith and honoring Creation are certainly not mutually exclusive (although I know there are many that would have you believe they are) and that encouraged participants to specifically think about lessons learned from the Desert. Along with my most excellent colleagues from the United Church of Santa Fe, I helped lead worship services at the end of each day, and I was blessed to direct a wonderful choir of seminar participants who offered two movements of my Desert Mass at the last worship service of the week. Author Terry Tempest Williams also gave soulful, sometimes cathartic talks each day before the concluding worship service. It was a week full of reflection and emotion, an experience that many would surely say was transformative, the effects of which would last a lifetime.
I was admittedly nervous about spending a week in the rustic accommodations at Ghost Ranch. I didn’t know what to expect from what I knew would be a very communal experience. Fatigued from the previous year and agitated by the knowledge that great personal upheaval was staring me in the face that summer, I was dubious about my ability to entrench myself in even a place so spectacular as Ghost Ranch for days on end. But I set out with my trusty espresso machine, said goodbye to my internet connection and cell phone service for a week, and went about engaging a week of Earth-Honoring Faith.
Part of what made the week so wonderful was, of course, the awe-inspiring setting. The sessions and worship services were wonderful and, I think, fed and challenged everyone in attendance. But I think the people in attendance were what ultimately made the week one to remember- be they well-loved choir members and associates from United or new friends that traveled from across the country just to participate in the seminar. Everyone’s spirit contributed to the ethos of that week in late June in the High Desert of Northern New Mexico.
I wrote several songs that week (I was hoping I might write a song each day, but I stopped at 3 in three days). “Moonrise” was the last of those songs.
The song was inspired by a gradually growing group of friends that gathered on the Mesa at Ghost Ranch each night for sunsets, stargazing (complete with shooting stars), and, to eventually see the moon rise over Kitchen Mesa. It started with just a few people and grew to a healthy crowd by the end of the week. It was the culminating, social “cocktail” hour of each day. One morning I heard in my head the beginnings of a simple idea:
The mesas put arms around the cool desert night.
The stars were our cathedral, and the beer was our Communion wine.
I immediately knew something worthwhile was going on. The rest is history. The first line is admittedly a nod to Michael Nesmith’s “Daily Nightly” (“…and mountainsides put arms around the unsuspecting city.”) The second line is anyone’s guess.
“Moonrise” echoes the ideas of Earth forming a center for worship, and love of people being the real focus of that worship. Engaging in the here and now with people whose company you enjoy, according to “Moonrise,” is the most spiritual of acts. The song itself is quite simple and I dare say a complete departure from anything that came before it. No angst or blood-letting about this one- It is folky, laid-back, and quite content to live in the moment.
I’ve played this song a few times and people really seem to enjoy it. Maybe it’s the simplicity of it. Maybe it’s the concept of a moonrise itself, which some people have told me fascinates them.
Or maybe it’s simply the feeling of connection to the Earth and to each other that one gets from a phrase like “and I’ll meet you on a shooting star.”