Saturday, 31 December 2011

The hand that made us

A picture from one of my favourite websites, NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, by Masahiro Miyasaka. It was taken in Japan, but I have been looking at similar wintry starscapes in East Anglia this week. As a caption I would choose the following words from Amos:

      Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion; 
      He turns the shadow of death into morning 
      And makes the day dark as night; 
      He calls for the waters of the sea 
      And pours them out on the face of the earth; 
      The LORD is His name. 
(Amos 5:8)

Where we are staying is surrounded by fields, giving space for a huge sky overhead - a real 'bowl of night'. And enough darkness to see many, many stars including our own Milky Way, which I can't see at home. I've been watching Orion striding across the sky each evening, with Sirius at his heels. It evokes childhood memories - I think Orion is one of the first constellations most of us learn to recognise. I've always loved dogs and as a child I was delighted to think there was a dog-star in the heavens; I remember too a story I had read to me about Orion as a sort of Father Christmas figure, bringing gifts and protection to small creatures in the depth of winter. Later I learned about the Pleiades, and was able to identify them too. The weather has been unseasonably mild, and I've found a strange pleasure in feeling cold, my face and fingertips tingling as I gaze at the sky, hearing only the whistling wind and the odd owl. With a warm house to scuttle back to of course!

The papers and television are full of reviews of the year, which mostly seems to amount to vacuous stories about 'celebrities' and memories of war, rioting, shootings, stabbings, and financial hardship; I'm also aware of friends who have much suffering to bear just now. How do I hold the reality of this in my heart and still feel a magical, innocent awe at the sight of the night sky? I wonder if there is some sort of answer in that verse from Amos: seek him...
This week is crammed with saints' days, with stories of brutality that sit grimly at odds with our celebration of the Child in the manger. The Holy Innocents and Stephen, and a fast- forward to Thomas of Canterbury, whose murder shows how Christ's Church was behaving a millennium later. But right there among them is John the Evangelist who wrote Good News and reminds us that 'the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it'.

I believe there is, truly, a 'Love that moves the stars'. At school we used to sing Joseph Addison's hymn 'The Spacious Firmament' which says of the stars:

In Reason's Ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious Voice,
For ever singing, as they shine,
The Hand that made us is Divine.

And I've learned a new word! I had a quick glance at Wikipedia just now to check on the myth of the Pleiades and found the wonderful word Catasterism (no, I didn't think the spellcheck would like it). It means that the seven sisters were, literally, turned into stars. Which reminds me of something C S Lewis wrote, and I'll end with that:

'We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more-something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words-to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it...
For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth
as prophecy.'

I wish you a new year filled with brightness and hope.

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