Stars in Our Darkened Skies

IMG_6048In these tumultuous days, so many people are grieving. And for them, the skies above are dark, starless, devoid of any promise of hope.

In California, wildfires that are still burning have been called β€œthe greatest tragedy that California has ever faced.” At least 40 people have died and more than 200 people are missing. An estimated 217,000 acres have burned, more than 5,700 structures have been destroyed, and approximately 75,000 people have been evacuated. Evacuees are returning home to a heartbreaking new reality.

The Las Vegas mass shooting reminded us that any community, any event, any neighborhood can become a place of grave danger.

In the September earthquake in Mexico, 255 people died. More than 44 buildings were completely destroyed and another 3,000 were severely damaged, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and leaving countless more mourning their tragic losses.

The 2017 hurricane season has been catastrophic. Hurricane Harvey killed 75 people, mostly in Texas,Β while Irma killed 87 people in the U.S. and its territories. As of yesterday, 48 people have died in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria left so many people without shelter, clean water, electricity or hope.

At least 500 people are believed to have been killed or seriously injured in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world for many years.Β The death toll from yesterday’s attack, which was caused by a truck packed with several hundred pounds of explosives, stood at 276 today as more bodies are removed from the rubble spread over an area hundreds of miles wide.

Perhaps some people feel abandoned by God, lost in their grief, not knowing where to turn. Perhaps some people look upward to find comfort and find instead a starless sky that speaks only of sadness and loss. Words of consolation seem empty. Sermons are never enough comfort. Sometimes prayers are not enough either. And yet our faith offers us the image of one who comforts and who understands our deepest sorrows. This comforting presence is beautifully portrayed in the poetry of Ann Weems. These are her words.

In the quiet times this image comes to me: Jesus weeping.

Jesus wept,
and in his weeping,
he joined himself forever to those who mourn.

He stands now throughout all time, this Jesus weeping,
with his arms about the weeping ones:
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’

He stands with the mourners, for his name is God-with-us.

 

‘Blessed are those who weep, for they shall be comforted.’

Someday. Someday God will wipe the tears from Rachel’s eyes.

In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.

If you watch, you will see the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one.

– From Psalms of Lament, Ann Weems

If we have anything at all to share with the thousands of our brothers and sisters who mourn today, it is this image of a weeping Christ who “was acquainted with grief” and who always β€” always β€” puts the stars back in our darkened skies, one by one. That is hope. Amen.

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Night Sky Wonders

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Eclipse, Comet, and a Full Snow Moon

Look up into to the heavens tomorrow night, February 10. You will see a trifecta of wonders: a full snow moon gracing the dark skies, an amazing lunar eclipse, and a few hours later, a spectacular view of Comet 45P. Indeed, there will be some lovely wonders to marvel at in the skies above.

To many this might just be a plain old full moon that happens to be in February. But for early Native American tribes, the full moon was much more than just a lovely novelty. Tribes kept tabs on time by observing the seasons and especially the celestial timekeeper known as the moon. They called the February moon a Full Snow Moon.

We humans tend to marvel at the lights in our skies. In some ways, looking into the night sky is a way we feel closer to God. In fact, throughout history, humans have looked to the heavens in their quest for God.

Seek him that made the seven stars and Orion, and who turned the shadow of death into the morning, and made the day dark with night: that calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is his name.

– Amos 5:8

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

– Psalm 8:1-3 NASB

In 1981, Roman Catholic Jesuit, Daniel Schutte, wrote the words of one of our most beloved hymns,β€œHere I Am, Lord.”

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry,
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

Whatever gazing into the sky might mean to you, it may be inspiring to take a few minutes to look for the display on Friday night; to wonder at the beauty of the night sky; to pay homage to the God who made the heavens and the earth; to worship, for just a moment, the Lord of sea and sky.

A Star in the Night

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Look up to the skies.
Who created all these stars?
He leads out the army of heaven one by one
and calls all the stars by name.
Because he is strong and powerful,
not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26 New Century Version (NCV)

The other night, I took a minute to look into the sky. What I saw was the sliver of a moon and the most sparkling star I have ever seen. Fred, bringing me down to reality, said, “That’s not a star. it’s a planet.” I dismissed his statement, continuing to look at the star and marveling at its light.

There are more than enough hard realities in this world, so I chose to see a star, a sparkling star that lit up the night. I allowed my imagination to win the moment this time. It was worth it, even for a brief moment.

The truth is that I really want to imagine what might be, to dream of what the future might bring my way. I discovered this when I was so ill, for it was during that time that I needed to learn to dream again. I was living a harsh reality. My only hope was to allow myself to dream of hope and healing and stars in the night. The thoughts of Bishop Steven Charleston give life to the idea of dreaming.

Dream on, even in this world of hard realities, even when the future seems to be clouded, dream on, let your imagination continue to see what might be, what could happen, what can be changed, dream on, for by your dreaming you are not hiding from some harsh truth, but giving yourself a glimpse of the alternative, giving those around you a star to see in the night, dream on, because your dream is hope, it is an affirmation of possibilities, a defiance of diminished life, a vision sacred and healing. Dream on, for from your dreams a new creation will be made.

– Steven Charleston

Look up to the skies.
Who created all these stars?

The answer? The same God of grace that brought me through my harsh days, prompted me to see a star in the night, and helped me dream again. Amen.

Looking into the Stars

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Photograph by NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team and the Westerland 2 Science Team

β€œWe are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde

Students of the stars never run out of interesting information. Astronomers tell us that stars are not spread uniformly across the universe, but are normally grouped into galaxies along with interstellar gas and dust. A typical galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars, and there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

The photo above was taken to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hubble. The super telescope snapped this shot of the Gum 29 nebula and Westerlund 2, a ruby-colored cluster of about 3,000 stars.

Enough of the science. The important thing is how we experience the vastness and beauty of a starry night. Looking up at the stars causes us to lift up our vision, to raise our sight above the mundane things that earth sometimes gives us. The stars sprinkle our darkest nights with twinkles of light. In some ways, starlight brings hope in the midst of darkness. I love the poetry of Sarah Williams. This is what she writes in Twilight Hours: A Legacy of Verse.

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Most importantly, the stars remind us of the enormity of the universe, while also reassuring us that as finite as we are, we are a part of God’s infinite creation.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-5 New International Version (NIV)

Looking up into the stars is a wonderful way to spend a few moments of life. Don’t forget to look up into the sky.

A Moment of Magic

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This year’s Perseid meteor shower might be the most magical thing you’ll ever see. We all love a good astronomical event taking place above our heads, especially if it’s shooting beams of light through the sky. This shower in particular has been well known since the year 1992 and will only occur once more, in the year of 2026.

The sky began falling on July 17th, and we will be able to see these wonders until the 24th of August. The best time to be outside viewing this amazing astronomical phenomena are between the days of the 11th and the 13th of August. That’s now.

This time around, the Perseid meteor shower is expected to be the most vivid and beautiful spectacle compared to the last time it made it’s great debut. The reason why we are able to view this grand performance of the stars is due to the comet shedding pieces/fragments that scatter into our atmosphere.

The fragments are hurling toward the Earth’s gravitational pull at about 100,000 miles per hour, which burns them up, creating a small burst of light just as they are about to poof into thin air.

What an exciting event that reminds us of the vastness and beauty of our universe. I hope to make time to watch for the showers of meteors and take in the moment of magic. I know it’s science, of course, but to me it’s magical, a sight to behold that may appear just once in my lifetime. So don’t miss this moment of magic. Go outside into the night. Take your love for the universe and your love for the world.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b]
and crowned them with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:3-5 (NRSV)

Thanks be to God!
(Information from higherperspectives.com)

To the Stars

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It’s not easy to reach for the stars, to cast our aim higher. Life certainly presents us with a healthy share of obstacles and challenges. The way can be difficult. But facing life challenges makes us stronger and more resilient.

An easy pathway does little to refine us. It doesn’t cause us to grow and change much. It maintains a status quo existence. So in some ways, I welcome difficult times, always believing that those times will make me a better person.

As W.C. Done has said, “Life has no smooth road for any of us.” Though he was born in 1832, his words are timeless.

Life has no smooth road for any of us; and in the bracing atmosphere of a high aim, the very roughness stimulates the climber to steadier steps, till the legend, over steep ways to the stars, fulfills itself.

Yes, the way to the stars can be a steep way. But aiming for the stars moves us to higher plains, to more full lives, to a new glimpse of hope. The steep path is treacherous, but getting there is worth it.