Starry, Starry, Night

January 29, 2010

Last week, I was up in Maine for a couple of days of skiing.  The temperature never got above single digits but there wasn’t a lot of wind and the snow cover was excellent.  After a few warm-up runs, my buddies and I began to really swoop down some black diamonds and let our edges grab some good turns.  I was reminded about how skiing is like riding a bike; no matter how old you get, your legs always seem to remember how to do it, although, truth be told, not for quite the extended runs of younger years.  As it was a weekday, there really weren’t a lot of people on the mountain so we did a lot of top to bottom runs where you almost ski right on to the lift without a break.  My face was frozen and my beard was iced but I was having a blast.

We took a break at lunch and entered a nearly empty lodge where we proceeded to unpack our brown bags We try and avoid buying food in the lodges because you need to rob a bank to pay for the prices – it’s like Fenway Park prices squared and tasting even worse.  The funny thing was that even though every table around us was completely empty, four women of a certain age decided to sit right next to us at our table.  I thought it might have been that maybe their bags were stashed under the table or something but, nope, they had to go across the room and get them from under another table and bring them back to us.  It was weird, kind of like when you go to a movie in an empty theater and the next people in decide to sit right in front of you.  Anyway, these ski-nanas (ski-grannies?) begin to carry on a conversation about all of their recent medical conditions and procedures, in great detail.  I started looking around for the candid camera guy, it was that crazy.  Well, as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound, so one of my friends began to talk about his “man issues,” in great and hilarious detail.  Did it faze our neighbors? Nope, but it sure made for a lot of laughs.

After a few more runs on the mountain in the afternoon, we called it an early day and headed back to the house.  My friend’s parents own a nice place about a fifteen-minute drive from the mountain.  The house is down one of those winding Maine dirt roads and sits up on the side of a hill with lots of open fields all around.  Aside from one house just across the road, there are not a lot of neighbors close by so it gets pretty dark and quiet at night.   Later that night, I decided to go outside for a little stargazing.  There were no clouds, no wind, and no ambient light in the area.  I put on my ski pants, gloves, and jacket and tromped up to the middle of the upper field.  When I got there, I pulled up my hood, stretched out my arms and flopped backwards into the snow, not to make a snow angel but to arrive in the best position to look at the stars. It was so quiet and cold I could hear the steady beat of my heart and my breath formed frozen clouds that hovered in front of my face.  All above me were glorious points of heavenly light, in all their varying brightness and colors, gathered in the great constellations.  I could see Orion with his belt, bow and arrows, Pleiades (or Subaru if you like) with its five small stars and one large star, the “W” shape of Cassiopeia, and of course, Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.  While I didn’t see any shooting stars (wrong time of the year), I did catch sight of a satellite as it made its slow orbital progress across the sky.  Yet for me, the most marvelous sight in the sky is always the Milky Way itself, that band of light that hovers in the background of the stars seeming to stretch on forever into infinity.  Every time I see it, I can’t help but be caught up in just the wonder of what God has wrought for us in the beauty and immensity of His creation.

Physicists and astronomers have posited the Big Bang theory in order to explain the nature of things, that sometime back billions of years ago all the matter that makes up existence was compressed into one single mass that suddenly exploded out in one great bang and that the universe is continuing to expand outward from this one central point.  While this theory seeks to explain the nature of things from the point of the “bang” onward it does not explain how all this got started.  No one has been able to offer any scientific theory to explain this.  This is where faith steps in.  We believers see the work of God as the primary mover in all of this.  We gaze up at the evening sky and all its starry splendor and see not scientific theory but the fingers of God’s great hands spreading out further and further across the heavens.  In that moment, God can seem so far away, so huge, so transcendent.  Yet, this is the same God who became a man for us in the person of Jesus Christ, no longer transcendent but present in the flesh.  God created the world anew through the actions of his Son, the new Adam, calling us each to join in the creation of the Kingdom of God on earth.  As I lay there in the snow that night, I held my own hand up in front of my face and traced its black silhouette across the sky thinking of how that hand can be a creative hand as well – a hand that blesses, a hand that embraces, a hand that welcomes, a hand that helps.  I didn’t linger there very long.  Modern clothing insulation can only do so much and I was beginning to become one with the snow.  Still I stayed there long enough to say a prayer, thanking God for the day – the skiing, the laughs, the joy of just being alive – and I left the snow feeling a bit closer to God even as I pondered the mystery of how far away he can seem.