Do the Stars Feel Bad When We Don’t Know Their Names?
“Orion, a Lion” begins an unpublished poem on the naming and knowing of stars. Not all star names are as image-bearing as The Lion or The Great Bear or Little Bear or The Big Dipper nor as mythic as Sagittarius, The Archer, or as culturally resonant as Aldebaran, The Follower. Some are merely numbered galaxies with simply a numerically identified object within it, HD 321452, with hardly a romantic overtone. But DO the stars feel bad when we don’t know their names? Or should WE? Is star knowledge a Christian call?
National Geographic featured Black Holes in its current issue in anticipation of the upcoming Cosmos series with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Current theologians, in harmony with the psalms, would also invite us to consider the heavens. Thomas Aquinas warned that an error about the cosmos is an error about God. Well, then, we should not only “listen up” but “look at the stars, look, look up to the skies . . . to see the fire-folk . . . !” (“The Starlight Night” by G.M. Hopkins) The stars radiate concepts of the universe and, analogously, concepts of the Divine.
Consider the heavens because love is the force that moves the Universe. (Dante)
Gaseous clusters? Elliptical or spiral shapes? Globular clusters? Supernovae? Galaxies colliding? White dwarfs? Red giants? Black holes? Dark matter? Empty space? It would seem many of these massive objects and mysterious concepts might have counterparts in the spiritual life. Gerard Manley Hopkins saw Christ hiding in the stars and all things sparkling or suddenly sparking. What theology might be gleaned from study of the night sky or the cosmos or any created being? Stars are being reborn from exploded star material, a “baptism” by fire, a way to probe the overtones of metaphors in the spiritual life.
As reflective beings, we are “the cantors of the universe.” The foundational religious virtue of awe and wonder should evolve with our awareness of the evolution of the universe.
All pursuit of truth is a pursuit of God; all pursuit of beauty is a pursuit of the Divine.
Even contemplating nasa.gov enhanced photographs of the range of cosmic objects brought to our eyes through Hubble telescope images arrests our minds and senses with awe and wonder, startles and charms us with exquisite beauty. (See also: http://science.time.com/2014/02/26/715-planets-found)
Getting down to earth, as Hopkins does in his poem, “A Starlight Night,” gains another perspective on God and the things of God, all the earth-bound creatures, all the creatures to which earth has given rise. Again Scripture reminds us to . . .
Ask the beasts and they will tell you. (The Book of Job)
What will the beasts tell us? Just as the stars tell us about immensity; the beasts may remind us of fragility. Just as the cosmic understanding reveals the interdependency of all things, evolving species may speak to us about the transitory nature of life as well as the stretch toward survivability through adaptability.
And as the Equinox surely approaches in the cycle of the seasons, consider going out to buy a star fruit or star plant and bring that god-ness home for daily contemplation and interiorization. A Lenten “discipline” might well be the study of the cosmic phenomena or earthen realities, or any area of knowledge—and reflection on the spiritual meanings.
Learning about anything is touching the edges of some dimension of God manifested in creation.
In any and all cases, study of what is calls for our commitment to care effectively for all that is, to attend to everything that is God’s. Humility, the virtue sine qua non, (fostered by mind-numbing numbers—a 100 billion stars in 100 billion galaxies) can be a response to our awareness of our littleness, our evolving nature. Nothing can be clung to. Just as Christ did not cling to divinity, let us not cling to any particular instance of created reality but hold everything lightly allowing it its freedom, allowing our spirit to soar to the solar system and beyond. All is the locus of the Cosmic Christ, Christ our Light, the dream of Resurrection.
evolve in me.
Teach me to treasure the perishable,
to handle the delicate delicately,
to embrace immensity humbly
and my finitude hopefully
for all abides in You.
You are my Way, My Resurrected Christ.
Your Truth is in all I ponder;
Your Light is even in cosmic explosions.
Jesus of my heart’s probing,
You are The Presence
pulsing in all that lives and moves and has being
in the midst of Your Kingdom.