Sunday, September 4, 2016

let us return to the stars

So they turned their minds away from intelligible reality and began to consider themselves.
--Athanasius, Against the Gentiles

Last night was a clear night. Miraculously, there was no permacloud. I noticed this while driving in the taxi from the airport back to home. And the driver had the windows open, and I tasted the cool night air. And it struck me how pleasant the night was. It was not sticky and hot and humid as so much of August was. What a nice night this is, I exclaimed, in de riguer taxi small talk.

The driver agreed and conversation ended there. And I stopped the click-clack of texting and just sat and felt the breeze on my face and noticed that there were stars.

So I dropped my bags at home, got in the car, and drove out into the darkness. I kept driving until I felt that I was on the border of getting lost and being lost. So I pulled over into a parking lot appropriately close to the darkness of the river.

I turned off the headlights of the car (which made me feel like a villain in a Nancy Drew novel). I sat on the hood and looked up.

I have seen night skies filled to the brim with stars. So that no part of the surface is free from small indications of interstellar light. There were too many lights from homes and the Seventh Day Adventist church near-by: even the few lights of homes polluted the sky too much.

But it was a real sky. There was not a cloud in sight, and the horizon was trimmed with an elegant fringe of treetops, uninterrupted by a turret or steeple. The stars of the always-visible Ursa Major pointed up to polaris, and my eyes followed their line up to a field of stars. The night was full of lights. And I stared upward, gazing into the whirling dizziness of the universe.

The sky was littered with stars, which was what I was hoping for: to look up and see even the shy stars that disappear quickly in well-lit suburbs. The stars were scattered across the sky, in varying depths and densities. Their brightness did not appear like the calculating brightness of mechanical lights. They felt alive: bursting with fire and even more motion than the airplane lights that cut through the bottom of the night sky.

I wondered what the ancients thought about these miraculous lights in the sky. Did it give them a sense of perspective and depth? Perhaps even they tried to tame them, by putting them in set spheres and orbs. Humans are always trying to box the universe in. Or drown it out with their own din and clatter. I think I imagine that the ancients were more in touch with the universe, because they were less technologically advanced. I suppose all that means is that they weren't as successful at drowning out reality. The instinct to contemplate anything besides that which is is very strong in us.

But the universe, no matter how much I try to ignore it, shove it into the limiting shoebox of my experience, or drown it out, is there: pulsing in the sky, alit with cold fire, whirling, dizzying, magical, enchanting, mystifying and full of awe.

It pulls me out of my little heart into a deeper love. It fills me down to the soles of my feet with fear, and sends shivers up and down my spine of beauty. This world is inexplicable. And may I always remain speechless in the face of her majesty.

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