Magazine article The Christian Century

Astronomy Lesson

Magazine article The Christian Century

Astronomy Lesson

Article excerpt

MATHEMATICS was not my best subject. I survived secondary education by memorizing. I solved problems without really comprehending the questions, and clung to formulas the way a drowning person clings to a floating log.

Whenever I read this week's psalm, I regret my limited vision. I think the psalmist glimpsed the complexity and intricacy of creation, the wonder of space and time that cannot be expressed in words or pictures, but might be apparent to an Einstein or a Stephen Hawking. When I was young, I could not see the beauty in the great expanses of wheat fields or the straight roads stretching toward the horizon. I yearned for mountains, rocks and rushing streams. But even when I wished that I had been born a New Englander (if not Swiss or Tyrolian), I could always see God's handiwork in the sky. The psalmist, I thought, would appreciate the broad sweep of our Kansas horizon, the sheer immensity of the sky.

Decades later, when I was about to move to New York City, I woke in the night and wept. "I'll never see the sky again," I said to myself. I dared not add, "I'll be cut off from God," but that was why I wept. Now, when I glimpse a single star that manages to outshine the city lights, or when I watch the moon rise high and triumphant over Central Park, I know that I am seeing the work of God's fingers, even in the city.

The sight of the night sky makes mystics of us all. Yahweh brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Of course, he could not, yet Abram received a promise. His grandson Jacob saw the heavens open, with angels ascending and descending. He too received a promise. The magi saw a star and followed it. And the shepherds were the first to hear the great news of the incarnation when they saw the sky illumined in the greatest "sound and light" show of all time.

It almost as if God is saying, "Plant fields, build roads and houses, cover the earth with your little creations, pollute and deface if you must; but then look up and see the heavens, the work of my fingers, the moon and the stars which I have established. Look up, and even pay attention. You might see what Abram and Jacob saw, the cosmic intricacies that drew the Wise Men from the East, or a bit of the same wonder that overwhelmed those grubby and unlettered shepherds on the Judean hillside. …

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