When was the last time you looked up at the night stars? When did you last let your gaze linger on the stars, pondering the expanse of space?
Mornings and nights are often so cluttered, so frenetic, so hectic that it’s easy for me to miss the quiet invitation of the stars. Yet when I take out the trash at night, there they are. When I usher the dogs outside for their final evening constitutional, the stars await with their silent testimony.
When I was younger and my eyesight was better, I was fascinated by the stars. Perhaps there was less light pollution then, for I could see the Milky Way spread out across the night like a gauzy ribbon. The stars were not mere pinpoints in a sea of darkness – it was as though the night sky was stippled with more of them than I could conceive of counting. The celestial bodies were an invitation to wonder.
This is nothing new. The ancients saw the stars as human heroes memorialized in the heavens or as divine beings unto themselves. In the Middle Ages, cosmologists proposed the idea that the heavenly bodies made divine music glorifying God as they rode their course in the skies.
All of that appeared to be lost when we entered the Modern Era. Our era of scientific skepticism supposedly stripped the cosmos of enchantment. And yet we still continue to wonder at the stars. Now they are an invitation to ponder the imponderable. What are the distances between the stars? How many galaxies are there out there? What are the far reaches of the cosmos? Is there life out there, and what form might it take? Science fiction novels and films provide us venues in which we can ponder the perils and possibilities that await us in the stars.
As I reflect on the magnitude and mystery in the cosmos, I find my faith enriched and expanded. The stars stir me to consider the height and breadth and depth and width of God’s love. Oh, I know that there are materialist skeptics out there who believe that science disproves the existence of God. And I know there are people of faith out there who refuse to consider certain cosmological findings of the sciences. As for me, I believe that we should expect the cosmos to be far grander and stranger and more incomprehensible than we ever imagined. The very strangeness of the cosmos gives me reason to believe that there is a spiritual reality that undergirds the material reality that we perceive with our senses.
Van Gogh’s famed painting “The Starry Night” communicates something of this wonder. The painting depicts the dynamic majesty and wonder of stars swirling in glory – the stars dominating the scene above a sleepy French village, all the homes illuminated with little dots of light. It is as though the blazing lights of the heavens are calling and responding to the little lights of the village. Interestingly, the painting is also a critique of the church. A close examination shows that the most prominent building in the village is the church steeple, and that is the only building that is darkened, without light. It is as though the little institution has lost its capacity for wonder and astonishment and awe and reverence. There is a vast difference between playacting reverence with our words and the actual experience of reverence that stops us still and humbles us. I believe this is some of what Van Gogh, painting while confined to an insane asylum, is trying to communicate.
What would it be like to carve out some time to gaze at the stars? To sit beneath the heavens for a while and wonder how they are telling the glory of God? Consider the vastness of space and remember He who set the galaxies spinning on their axes and kindled the sparks to every supernova and compressed the gravity in every black hole and hid dark matter in the crannies of the universe.
Is it possible that the stars, if we take time to sit silently before them, can be a gateway to enchantment?
Soli Deo Gloria