Proverbs 8: 22-31
Creation Series Year C, Cosmos
September 22, 2019
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon
Elizabeth Winslea, pastor
This summer Tim and I drove across Idaho on our way to fetch Jacob from Ring Lake Ranch. We decided to take the smaller road out of Mountain Home, and headed north on state highway 20. It was glorious.
Mile after mile of open land - many fields beginning to turn golden, other lands of scrubbier brush, and endless efforts at fencing. We could drive many miles without seeing signs - other than the doggedly persistent roadside fence - no signs of humanity. No homes, no barns, no businesses. Just the stretch of road before us.
And along our way, we passed and stopped in briefly at the Craters of the Moon National Monument. We wandered a little way out on an outcropping of a lava bed, and remarked upon how the park seemed to be aptly named. We felt as though we had landed on the moon - with little vegetation, or color for that matter. Just a sea of black, volcanic rock.
How appropriate then, to learn that Craters of the Moon has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park. It is recognized as being a place in our nation where the night sky is still visible and where efforts continue to preserve this natural treasure - the night sky.
Because this is a wonder that is quickly being lost to the perpetual light of our modern living. In fact two out of three Americans cannot see the Milky Way at night. Mapping shows the progression of light pollution since the late 1950s, which begins with seven or eight small identifiable pockets of light pollution,
marked with a modest yellow.
Those pockets increase in size and begin to connect with each other so that by 1997, only 40 years later, the entire eastern half of the U.S. is marked with significant light pollution with markers of hot red all across the north and the eastern seaboard. At an increase of 6-10% each year, the expectation for 2025, only 6 years away, is that the entire eastern half of the U.S. will all be lit up red, with only small, disconnected pockets of no light scattered throughout the western states.
Why do we care? What does it matter if we can or cannot see the Milky Way? Out of all the issues we face each day, why think about the night sky? Isn’t night time simply the point at which we collapse from our labors, in order to restore ourselves enough to face another day of labors?
Dan Duriscoe (a National Park Service scientist) has said, "With the loss of dark sky views, the ancestral stories of celestial phenomena that so richly express our connection to these orbiting bodies are all but forgotten. And this is more than a matter of nostalgia. Humans need opportunities for wonderment and contemplation of the universe, and animals need darkness for protection, navigation, nesting and predation.”
That night after traveling across Idaho, at Ring Lake Ranch in rural western Wyoming, having read all about light pollution, Tim and I turned off our cabin light and stepped out onto the deck of our cabin. And there it was, the amazing night sky that swept a canopy over us from tree line to tree line. Stars and planets, constellations spilling about in such abundance. And the Milky Way, faithfully there as always, like a brush stroke against the dark canvas. I needn’t tell you, it was breathtaking. But, let me say it anyway, it was breathtaking.
I could have remained out there for hours, I really do think. Except, it was cold! And I knew we had a long drive ahead the next day.
What do we gain from craning our necks into the night sky? Why do we feel so compelled to seek out and take in the darkness of the night and the glories it has to show?
Of course, there is the argument for beauty. In a world and a lifestyle where the natural world is so mediated for us, there is greater and greater need for the beauty of the wild. The beauty of the beyond. And the night sky definitely offers us this outlet.
But I also think, in part, our need for seeing the night sky has to do with the reminder of mystery. The stars in their courses offer us physical, tangible evidence of the mystery and wonder of the world, the universe, God’s spirit, every night.
The night sky is like a magic show. When the house lights dim, we are transported into another reality. But it’s a reality that’s always there we just can’t see it most of the time.
And thus, in a sense, the night sky reconnects us to wisdom. To the wisdom that there is mystery and awe and wonder all about us, but so often we simply can’t see it. The night sky offers us a pause button. A moment to reflect. An offer of perspective.
And a question about where we fit into a story line that is so much broader than most of us can wrap our heads around.
Brian Swimme suggests that the night sky - staring into the vastness of the universe - is more like us staring into the story of ourselves. That indeed we are the universe in human form.
In religious terminology, we might think of this as seeing the universality of the God presence - in the night sky - and knowing our connection to that wide expanse, because of our connection through God’s imbeddedness in all things. As Richard Rohr writes, “God loves things by becoming them. God loves things by uniting with them.”
As scientists learn ever more about the nature of the universe, its origins, make-up, direction, patterns of relationship, we all gain a greater sense of the sheer magnitude and gift of creation. And we can honor the majesty and mystery by seeking the wisdom to know our place in the story. To see how we are so intricately connected to the farthest flung sun, and how we are just one part of the myriad exhibitions of the abundance of life and creation.
The deep seas, fountains, and springs of water. The mountains and hills, fields and every clod of dirt. The heavens, the clouds of the sky, the foundations of the earth.
All of it is imbued with the DNA of wisdom. And our wisdom is to be awed by the truth that Creation’s Wisdom is a part of every orchid, palm and pelican and person. And that is gift to us.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on September 22, 2019 at Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.