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?
Even when the dark sky is dense with mist and clouds and the moon is elsewhere, it helps to know the stars are constant. I don’t see much at night, as I like nothing better than to retire early, but I do look up in the dark morning while I walk the dog. Orien has appeared in the south/southwest sky. He is my favorite with his belt of stars. I always know that we have shifted into fall. I wish I could see all of him, but the city lights don’t easily allow for that. Yet, I know he is all there somewhere.
Here in my neighborhood in the mountains of northern Arizona we have a light ordinance … no street lights, no bright porch lights, etc. On very clear nights it seems you can reach right up and touch those gorgeous stars. Winter nights are the best … there’s just nothing like it.
On my birthday eve, coming out into the beautiful night from the restaurant where my family had celebrated my birthday, we saw shining brightly in the sky one lone star. We paused and enjoyed its luminous beauty. What a wonderful moment — the sharing of God’s beauty with loved ones. And then we climbed in the car, pulled out of the parking lot and saw the gorgeous moon. Another shared moment of wonder. A blessed evening.
Barbara, my eyes consume your words so fast, as I race to see where you are leading, that I get dizzy. Then I have to stop, take a deep breath and read your essay from the soul again, slower, to absorb it. And this one is so deep and masterful, as you connect heavens and Earth, the turning seasons and the migrating songbirds. (They move in great pulsing clouds at night, you know, to avoid the raptors that migrate by day. And so many take their rest and refuel in our lakefront parks.) Thank you for this meditation on the ancient rhythms of people, wldlife and our Earth. I strain to see the stars from my perch where Lake Shore Drive used to end. And I recall when I moved here, 25 years ago, you could easily see Orion and the Seven Sisters (well, the visible six) in the winter sky. Not now. On a clear night, even the Drinking Gourd is washed out, at least in Uptown. But following your meandering today has led me back to the wonders of the constellations as we all spin toward the season of long nights.
Finding my way home is all I want to do these days. The stars are of little help in this, the season of my personal turmoil. The situation wtih my mom gets more confusing and more frustrating wtih each passing day. And, yesterday it hit me hard. I needed to talk to my mom, and this lady I spend my days with no longer is my mom. Very sad time for me. But, I know that the stars are there to guide me, and that eventually I will find the light and find my way home, just like the tiny birds you mention. It’s all about having more patience and letting the world lead the way instead of me trying to control the world. Thanks for the hope that I read in this beautiful meander. :))
Oh my star gazing table companions….just found this and had to bring it right to the table….it is so lovely. The Silence of the StarsWhen Laurens van der Post one nightIn the Kalihari Desert told the BushmenHe couldn’t hear the starsSinging, they didn’t believe him. They looked at him,Half-smiling. They examined his faceTo see whether he was jokingOr deceiving them. Then two of those small menWho plant nothing, who have almostNothing to hunt, who liveOn almost nothing, and with no oneBut themselves, led him awayFrom the crackling thorn-scrub fireAnd stood with him under the night skyAnd listened. One of them whispered,Do you not hear them now?And van der Post listened, not wantingTo disbelieve, but had to answer,No. They walked him slowlyLike a sick man to the small dimCircle of firelight and told himThey were terribly sorry,And he felt even sorrierFor himself and blamed his ancestorsFor their strange loss of hearing,Which was his loss now. On some clear nightsWhen nearby houses have turned off their visions,When the traffic dwindles, when through streetsAre between sirens and the jets overheadAre between crossings, when the windIs hanging fire in the fir trees,And the long-eared owl in the neighboring groveBetween calls is regarding his own darkness,I look at the stars again as I first didTo school myself in the names of constellationsAnd remember my first sense of their terrible distance,I can still hear what I thoughtAt the edge of silence where the inside jokesOf my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,The C above high C of my inner ear, myselfTunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:My fair share of the music of the spheresAnd clusters of ripening stars,Of the songs from the throats of the old godsStill tending even tone-deaf creaturesThrough their exiles in the desert.~ David Wagoner ~(Traveling Light)