stars and wonder

when the sun slips down tonight, and it promises to do just that at precisely half past the hour of six, we too will slip away, slip outside.

we’ll kindle lights, bless the passage of sunbeams giving way to moonbeams, anoint the cusp of sukkot, the jewish festival of joy.

we’ll take to the domed cathedral, the one whose holy sanctum arcs beyond our reach, the one papered every night in stars. itty-bitty, far, far away points of shining light.

it is God’s command, on the 15th day of the seventh month of the hebrew calendar, to take to the world beyond our sturdy shelters, the ones of doors and windows, floor joists and heating vents and taps that spill water with no more than a twist of the wrist.

it is the season of holiness in this house that draws from all the holy wells.

and so, we do as it is written in leviticus, chapter 23.

we take to our dwelling in the harvest field. we take to our rickety, not-so-sturdy shelter, the one meant to remind us that wherever we dwell, God is our shelter.

at our house it means that, for eight nights beginning tonight, we will take our evening meal out in the screened-in porch, tacked onto the garage, tucked beneath the pines.

it’s not quite living up to the levitican prescriptions. not quite roofed with twigs and branches, hung with plants that can’t be eaten.

but then i’m all for extracting the essence, not getting tangled in particulars.

and the essence here is breath-taking, once again.

we are being commanded to step beyond the comfortable, the heated, the not-so-drafty. we are commanded to immerse ourselves in the world of night, and all its bright and shining wonder.

stripped of all that we take for granted the other 357 nights of the year, we carry platters and pitchers out to where the chill autumn air runs shivers down our spine, where we twist our legs one over the other as if braided beeswax and do a little warm-up bounce, where we thank heaven for the invention of knitted socks and levi strauss’ blue jeans.

we watch the flicker of the candle-flame dodge and dart upon our flaky-painted, old-door table. and, come the full moon in just two nights, we’ll indulge in no shortage of moonbeams to light our way.

it is this tight-stitched seam between our own bare selves and the whole of creation that draws me deep and deeper into the hebrew calendar, the calendar of so many of our roots.

i hear its echoes through and through my soul.

i am a child of the earth and heavens. i find myself at once skipping like a schoolgirl full of wonder, and hushed in awe, something like the monks whose vespers follow the unfolding of the holy hours, and the turning of the globe, away and toward the sun.

i am humbled by this call to take in the autumnal majesty. to sit beneath the wind-blown boughs, to listen to the acorns plonking on the roof above my head.

and as the stars come on, as one by one, as if the dimmer switch is turned, or the caretakers of wonder travel through the heavens, sparking all the star-wicks with their long-necked matches, i am rapt.

it is no less than a commandment of sukkot that through the roof–called a skhakh in hebrew–we should be able to see the stars.

the point, i do believe: do not dismiss the divine sparks of light scattered all around, in this case the ones painted on the black cloth of night.

and that’s a point that fills me with wonder.

it’s too easy in a world of megawatts and street lights so bright they wash the city sky in amber glow, to forget to look up. to ignore the constellations, the sky-markers that over the centuries kept sailing ships on course, and that to this day whisper to the flocks of fall’s migration just which way to flap their wings and fly.

yes, i stumbled on that latter bit of holiness just the other day, and it’s one that hinges wholly on the stars that shine above.

i learned, talking to an esteemed author of many books on birds, that scientists have proven the uncanniest of celestial wonders, one that, like october’s winds, gives me the shivers.

it seems that in the springtime and early summer, when the baby birds are still tucked safely in their nests, they awake at night, not unlike the squawking species known as baby humans.

only, bless those feathered things, the baby birds are transfixed by night shadows and the stars above.

they are hard at work, those nestlings, stamping in their mind’s eyes the patterns of the nightsky.

indeed, they memorize the constellations, fix their inner compass to the one lone star that never shifts.

somehow, within their every fiber, they align their position with the northstar, and evermore are guided in their migrations, fall and spring, away or toward that shining beacon.

that’s how a wee bird, just hatched the spring before, can find its way–untried, untested–from the boreal forests of the north, clear down to where the sun shines warm.

all in cloak of night.

all because of one star, fixed at the center of it all. one star guiding the whole rushing river that is the winged migration, flowing north to south and south to north again.

and to think that most nights we don’t even bother glancing much beyond the treetops–if at all.

and so it is that we are commanded, drawn beneath the night sky, instructed to mind the shining stars.

as if a whisper stirring us, reminding: the divine is here and there and everywhere.

sukkot beckons: were we to step into the holiness of bough and birdsong and rushing wind, we stand to be washed over with a saving grace.

and so it will be.

at nightfall, i will leave behind my sturdy house and go to where the winds blow and the starlight flickers on.

i will take a seat at the table in the breezy, chilly place where God, sure and steady, is my shelter, and my peace.

have you stopped to count the stars lately? have you, like the baby birds, memorized the nightsky? could you find your way home, knowing only where the polestar burns?