Starless, Starless Night

by Deana Chadwell5/30/18
Here we are, groping our way through the promised Age of Aquarius, constantly bombarded with images of kids snorting prophylactics or swallowing detergent, college professors gloating over the dead, and young people committing random, mass shootings. Ignorance and arrogance vie for first place in our national personality. We’re uprooting our past in the irrational belief that it will improve our future. We literally roll out the red carpet for those whose ideology is idolatrous, murderous, seriously abusive. Not a day goes by without us finding out some additional skullduggery committed by people high up in government. It’s just mind boggling – and I think I know one reason why this is happening.

Yes – the education system is partially responsible.

Yes – most churches do more to entertain us than they do to teach us.

Yes—we’ve removed God from the public square. All these are part of the problem, but there’s another underlying cause. Stars.

Or the lack thereof.  We have lost sight of the stars.

Stars are useful.  We need to be able to see them – all of them spread out against a black velvet sky, trillions of little pin-pricks of light reminding us of who we are, of how little we are, how lucky we are to live on this tiny jewel of a planet, out on the edge of an ordinary galaxy where we have a magnificent view of places so far away that they no longer exist. We need constant reminders that we are not self-sufficient, that something is not only bigger than we are, but so good, so gorgeous, so dynamic that we can’t begin to wrap our brains around it. We need awe. We need wonder. We need humility.

But today our cities vie with the stars, blocking them, drowning them in a light that we think is of our own making, homogenizing the night with neon signs and hydrogen street lights, with spotlights strafing the heavens, with flood lights on a football field, with millions of miles of headlights snaking through our cities. We’ve come to the subconscious conclusion that we make the light.

We have, it’s true, found ways to transfer the light from the day into the cosmic darkness of night, and that is wonderful. We’ve all admired the lights of a city laid out before us, been grateful for the split second that it takes to flip a light switch and illuminate a room, a stage, a baseball field. Our ability to do that reminds me of God’s words as He watched Nimrod build the Tower– “…nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them,” (Genesis 11:6b). It’s true that the human mind and our opposable thumbs have done a cracker-jack job of subduing the Earth in spite of the linguistic barrier the Lord created at Babel. We live so much more comfortably than even kings were able to do just a couple hundred years ago.

But, we have forgotten the stars.

According to Genesis 1:14-19, stars were created on the 4th day.  

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. 

God created them for “signs and seasons.” Ancient people used them for just that – the heavenly bodies told them when to plant, told them when winter was coming, when the days would get longer again. The Zodiac, many scholars say, tells the story of the Gospel – from the Virgin, to the judgment of Libra, through the feeding of the 5,000 with a handful of Pisces, to the sacrifice of the Taurus. I’m not arguing that ancient man read it that way, but we do know from the book of Job, written c2500 B.C. that men had already named the signs of the Zodiac, the Mazzaroth,

Job 9: 8 & 9 –He alone spreads out the heavens,

And treads on the waves of the sea;

He made the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades,

And the chambers of the south;

Job 38:32 — Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season?

Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs?

This is God telling Job the same thing – don’t get arrogant here, Job. I made all this; you didn’t. Look at the stars and re-align your thinking, fix your perspective. I am in control here.

Job had forgotten that. We have too.

Recently I ran across an article about a newly developed map of the universe. The images were startling – as if the galaxies had just been flung outward like a woman tossing feed to her chickens. Another image was color-coded and looked like someone had just slung a handful of glitter and some of it had doubled back on itself, some arched, some curled, some still headed straight out from the center. It was gorgeous. And then when I realized that these specks of light were entire galaxies, and we live in a non-descript, ordinary galaxy, in a not very extravagant solar system on a small sphere in exactly the right place, with exactly the right minerals and gases and liquids, exactly the correct gravitational force, exactly the right temperature variation. Earth is unusual only in that we live here, that we can live here.. And who are we? Was all this for us?

Then, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” We are nothing in the face of the vastness of this universe, and yet, this universe seems to be for us. And if so, then our lives are about much more than getting the next promotion, or a date with the girl at the coffee shop. The stars tell us that – their vastness, their distance, their sheer multitude, their beauty, the messages in their arrangement, the clocklike order of their movement, their utter dependability.

Stars, like all sparkling things, draw our attention. They pull our gaze away from contemplating our navels. They carry us out past this world and up into eternity. They take the lid off of our imaginations and raise our awareness of God. We need stars.

Maybe we need to institute a holiday for the stars. Once a year we would shut down all the lights everywhere so we could all go outside, lie out on old blankets spread on the grass in our backyards, or stand with our neighbors in the middle of the street and look up. Just for an hour, once a year. Maybe that would help us keep our heads from swelling, keep us in touch with reality, keep us humble.

We are in desperate need of humility – not humiliation – just the ability to realize our rightful place in the order of things, to realize that there is an order to things and that order is not of our making. He who made those stars and flung them across the heavens is in charge – whether we like it, or not.


Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com. She is also an adjunct professor at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. She teaches writing and public speaking.
About Author Author Archive Email • (138 views)

Share
Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
This entry was posted in Essays. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Starless, Starless Night

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    We’re uprooting our past in the irrational belief that it will improve our future.

    Indeed.

    I resonate with everything you’re saying about the stars. Well said. This is the type of subject that never quite makes it to the Twitter feed of our culture. This site was meant to highlight essays and perspectives such as this. Well done.

    Speaking of which, here’s a long exposure shot I took with my Nikon D3300 last summer. (About 30 seconds is the max before you get blurring because of the Earth’s rotation.) How to Photograph Stars & Night Skies

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That’s a daytime sky with that many stars? I’m surprised. Or did you do a night sky that nevertheless shows a blue sky?

      Urban lighting has been a problem for those who want to view the night sky for many a decade. There’s a reason early observatories were already located well outside the cities. I was coming back from a trip to Madison, Indiana with a friend once when he stopped the car in the middle of the country just to look up at the night sky. Traveling through Louisville, we could see the moon and maybe a few stars (in the suburbs there isn’t as much light).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Timothy, that was a time exposure of the night sky….about 30 seconds from what I remember. Probably the blue sky is a product of the street lights and such. But it does surprisingly look like it was shot in the broad daylight, or at least dusk.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, I don’t have a camera or anything else to make photos with, and have never done so. My father used to make slides and show them (and home movies), but it probably never occurred to him to do the night sky.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Beautiful photo. I have some things I need to you to photograph so I can catalogue them.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      “A generation that ignores history, has no past and no future.”
      Robert A Heinline. Time Enough for Love. 1973.

      RAH you are missed.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Although by then he’d largely lost it. His only really good book after The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (and even that is no match for such earlier books as Citizen of the Galaxy) was Friday.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    What the materialists try to deny is the basic fact that existence is a mystery. And those wonderful star-lit skies serve only to high-light this mystery.

    Maybe we need to institute a holiday for the stars. Once a year we would shut down all the lights everywhere so we could all go outside, lie out on old blankets spread on the grass in our backyards, or stand with our neighbors in the middle of the street and look up. Just for an hour, once a year. Maybe that would help us keep our heads from swelling, keep us in touch with reality, keep us humble.

    The most wonderful star-gazing can be done in the desert. Out there in the quiet, one can look up into the heavens and put oneself in a proper perspective. I think it is no coincidence that the Middle East is the home of monotheism.

    Ignorance and arrogance vie for first place in our national personality.

    Sadly, there are far to many whose ignorance is exceeded only by their arrogance. A very bad formula for life.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      What the materialists try to deny is the basic fact that existence is a mystery.

      Probably more than a few religionists do likewise. But point taken. I think Deana has her philosophy and theology right. But not only were there the Gnostics (nature is evil) but there are Christians who associate love of nature with Paganism or atheism.

      Love of nothing but nature surely is a heresy. But in this simple-minded age which thinks in terms of sound bytes and couldn’t hold two opposing thoughts in balance if their lives depended on it, I think many can’t get the idea into their heads that you can love nature without being a Gnostic or (worse) an environmental wacko (whose love of nature I think is, 3 times out of 5, a longing to be loved oneself).

      It gets complicated because Leftism is a new kind of paganism whereby Mother Nature becomes a sort of god and many Christian churches are indistinguishable from this creed.

      With atheism, rather than matter being good or bad, it’s considered all there is or could ever be. If a religious fundamentalist shrinks his world because he thinks love of nature is too much of a pagan thing, atheists do similarly by thinking that any thought even marginally resembling any philosophy but a sort of stoic pessimistic realism is to be cast off as a heresy. In practice, this has created people who have boxed themselves into a mental and philosophical cage that is as ugly as it is uncomfortable.

      Isaiah 40:27 — Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

      Well, you do have novas. But point taken again. In the essence of a star is the aspect of the nature of the Creator and the aspect of the created thing. One is spirit. One is matter. A star doesn’t shine forever. But while it does, it does show both aspects to those not boxed in by a learned fear of their own sense of wonder.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The Cathars also had the notion that the world was a snare for the soul, which is why the Catholic Church launched crusades against their two main groups, the Bogomils in the Balkans and much later the Albigensians in France. The latter started with the siege, sack, and massacre at Béziers, where Abbot Amalric (the Papal legate) was alleged to have said (in order to deal with the problem of which citizens were good Catholics and which were heretics), “Kill them all, and God will know his own.” Whether he said it or not, that’s what happened.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Hopefully we won’t repeat the mistake of religious fundamentalist and insist that the stars be seen in this way instead of that way — or else.

          My favorite or second favorite song from Les Mis is “Stars,” particularly as sung by Philip Quast.

          Stars
          In your multitudes
          Scarce to be counted
          Filling the darkness
          With order and light
          You are the sentinels
          Silent and sure
          Keeping watch in the night
          Keeping watch in the night

          You know your place in the sky
          You hold your course and your aim
          And each in your season
          Returns and returns
          And is always the same
          And if you fall as Lucifer fell
          You fall in flame!

          Once should first note that Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” is a very pro-religious tome. What passed for justice used to be pretty harsh. Jean Valjean was sent to prison for stealing bread, a sentence that stretched to 19 years because of several unsuccessful escape attempts. One assumes (as surely it did) it mirrored real life in early 19th century France.

          Police Inspector Javert’s main fault (that is the character that Quast is playing) seems to be his too-rigid sense of duty. He is the letter of the law completely with 0% spirit. He is as fixed as the stars and burns as hot. As Wiki puts it, Hugo’s novel “examines the nature of law and grace.”

          Jean Valjean has the effect on Javert that one of Captain Kirk’s logic bombs does on an alien computer that can think only literally and rigidly. Javert doesn’t know what to do with this man who certainly did break the law but who is personally so obviously good.

          This novel has complete relevancy today where entire careers are smashed on the rocks of political correctness, the hardest and most literally rigid laws in the West. There is no grace in them. They see themselves as pure, fixed, and legitimate as Javert’s stars.

          There must be order. There must be law. But unless that law is anchored in and stems from a higher law, filled with mercy and grace, we too are destined to eventually throw ourselves in the Seine (if only to escape these laws).

  3. pst4usa says:

    Beautiful Deanna, very well said.

  4. Rosalys says:

    How does this explain North Korea? I’ll bet the North Koreans have beautiful starry night skies, because they have very little modern lighting to interfere. Therefore they should be praising the God of Creation more than the rest of us.

    “The heavens declare the glory of God,” (Ps 19:1) and man should be able to discern the existence of God, but too often he will not.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, it depends on your religion, I guess. In North Korea, they worship the Kim family. The stars in their courses can’t help that at all.

    • Lucia says:

      I read somewhere that there are many Christians in North Korea, mostly in the gulags.

  5. David Ray says:

    For what it’s worth Mrs. Chadwell, when myself & others saw that sky minus the streetlight interference; we were amazed and in awe.
    (We were all young when we first joined the Marines. Hey; it was my first time . . . and I still remember it as yesterday. )

    Good article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *