(Vincent Van Gogh, "Starry Night over the Rhone," 1888)
I Corinthians 15:40-44:
"There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body."
I had a magnificent set of evenings over Memorial Day weekend sitting out among the moon and the stars--even sleeping out all night in my yard one night, it was so glorious--and seeing the lightning bugs begin their summer debut for the season. It was simply a magnificent weekend to be a speck in God's Universe. The sheer size and awesome timelessness of the "big" things in nature--the sky, the stars, the ocean, just to name a few--have always been the major spiritual grounding rods for me, my entire life. People just don't do it for me the way nature does.
I looked at the stars these last few nights and pondered the paradoxical dance that "people" seem to occupy in my existence, thinking how each star, in its own way, is its own "person." How like the stars in the sky, we are called to community, and how each of us in our own way feels called to individuals in that community. Yet for me, the paradox has always been nothing gets my goat like people sometimes. I can only handle people for so long, and then that secular monastic in me takes over and I retreat to my safe hermitage of my country life. There is my daily retreat from work, as well as "add on" forms like my occasional "silent Saturday morning," and my "stay-cation retreats where I never leave home." Yet I never feel "un-called" to be a part of a community. When I am home alone, after a certain amount of time enjoying my alone-ness, I think of what it is I am supposed to "do next" when I enter back into community. When I am in that community, after a while I start daydreaming of what I want to do next in my "alone time." Each needs the other, and truthfully, each feeds the other.
On one of those nights, I sat out and thought about different people with each star--what they were experiencing in their lives, and how it is that I am supposed to combine with them to light up the sky, yet maintain my own individual "star-ness." Each one of us with the incarnational light of God within us, but manifested in so many unique ways.
There seem to be at least three kinds of stars in my life experience. Most valued are the "stars I can always see"--for instance, in the winter, I can always find the constellation Orion, and in the summer I can always fix my gaze on Scorpio. They are like the people in my life who have now been my friends for three decades or more. How we relate to each other has changed drastically over the years--sometimes not even close to the roles in which our relationships started out--but we somehow can always adjust. Sometimes their light is very intense and intimate in my life, and vice versa; other times, the light is dimmer. But they are constants. They are appreciated for both their longevity and their versatility.
Then there are the stars that once were a major focus, but I now no longer pay much attention to. I really don't pay much attention to the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, or the North Star itself, per se. But there was a time I always looked for them. They are like the people who were once very involved and intimate in my life--old lovers, intense best friends, etc.--and somehow no longer figure much into the tapestry other than to be a thread once cherished, but no longer. Some of these fizzled out in a supernova of conflict, whereas others just sort of atrophied and slowly burned to extinction. Sometimes their light returns--but it is almost never of the same intensity that it once was, nor does my need to tend to that light return with the same intensity. I appreciate those stars for the history they have given me, even if it includes hard lessons.
Finally, there are the stars I just got around to noticing, like the time I first recognized all of Ursa Major, rather than just its "dipper." The first time I realized the dipper could be converted to a bear, it was an exciting time. It made the sky seem a little bigger than it used to be. I think about the gifts and talents in people I just now got around to appreciating in people who have been around me all along, or about the new people that come into my life over the years, and something about them challenge me to tend their light and let them tend mine. I appreciate those stars because they represent hope and promise.
Even the stars are perishable--which enhances my knowledge that people are perishable. It makes me understand the urgency of the Gospel of Mark, and in Paul's letters. If even stars are perishable, then people definitely are. Yet timelessness and infinity rides within all of them. What a beautiful, but messy, dance it all is!