Of Stardust and Paradoxes

If you have been up and about late at night or around 4 am, just before dawn, you may have noticed flecks of light jetting across the skies during these warm nights and gentle mornings. Since mid-July and until the beginning of September our earth is traveling through the annual Perseid Shower of meteors streaking across the darkness. The Perseids will peak soon. This sojourn of lights, which themselves are orphans from streams of debris left behind in space by comets, is an annual event signal summer drawing to a close. In the midst of darkness these gentle reminders call us to the awareness that, too, we are nothing more than lonesome watchers of the night. These bits of stardust dart through the heavens at around 100 meteors per hour. 

​Perhaps more importantly even as these bits of stars fly by, we may recall that we are made of the same stuff as the stars, as is our earth. Distant and fleeting, these bits of stars and the planets are part of the much larger design of the One. Whether it be Consciousness without locality or a name such as YHWH, the Transcendent One, the Compassionate One, Allah or just, God, we cannot help but notice that there is a curious orderliness amidst the chaos that is creation. Like our annual journey through the stars, part of our work of being human is to take the time to discern where Divine Presence manifests and how. Indeed at the end of the day, while it is still a Sacred Mystery, it is a mystery we can but contemplate and upon which we can reflect. We are invited to go into the world enlivened with a new vision of possibilities, tempered by wonder. 

​Annie Dillard tells it this way:

​“There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: A people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time—or even knew selflessness or courage or literature—but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less. There is no less holiness at this time—as you are reading this—than there was the day the Red Sea parted. There is no less enlightenment under the tree by your street than there was under the Buddha’s bo tree. There was no whit less might in heaven or on earth than there was the day Jesus said, “Maid, arise’ to Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5), or the day Peter walked on the water (Matthew 14), or the night Mohammed flew to heaven on a horse.  In an instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant a bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss; or to endure torture. ‘Each and every day the Divine Voice issues from Sinai’ says the Talmud. Of eternal fulfillment, theologian Paul Tillich said, ‘If it is not seen in the present, it cannot be seen at all.’ ”

For the Time Being, Alfred Knopf, 1999, p. 88-89.

​Indeed, as the heat of summer bears down, once again giving weight to the testimony about global warming, we are prone to be worn out by the sheer intensity of summer: the heat, the humidity, the constant blossoming and fruiting that marks this season of growth and abundance. Even the parables found the Gospels describe corn and weeds, good seed and bad, calling to mind a Jesus who wanders through fields and farms, seasides and rugged hills, as he is moved to tell stories from and about the grain ripened fields of Palestine. All of this is to say that this is a time for being still, reflecting on what and how we have been living through the challenges, cautionary acts and fearsomeness in the midst of a global pandemic and yet we are in summer when everything says, “go and do” and this year, we can’t. There’s a lot to consider.

​When I consider than in less than 80 days we will vote again on the future of the nation, it is really a national referendum on leadership and power, on commitment and experience. Leading the world with COVID infections and sustaining an unspeakable loss of life; along with a national conversation about the division between races and cultures, I am deeply concerned as to whether we can bear four more years of the current leadership. I am concerned for the democracy and the republic in which I have lived and served as a civil servant and confess, along with many others, I’ve not seen anything like this in my lifetime. 

​I am also reminded that the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to his churches in the south of Greece encouraging them to persevere in the face of contradiction and suffering, in spite of their weakness, stating mostly clearly We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Indeed our weakness and failure is fertile ground for a renewal and reconsideration of who we are and to whom or what we belong. While concerning, I am of the mind that the United States is undergoing the long-expected and much feared Diviner’s Fire.

​It is evident that we cannot go back to life as it was and clearly should not. It is also patently obvious that as a nation and a people we have a unique opportunity which only comes occasionally in a generation to start over and recreate a world in which justice, peace, respect, mercy, dignity and grace have the opportunity to  re-emerge as part of our national character. We may be able to heal deep and long-festering wounds and finally find a way forward that brings new life to all people. Let us pray that this indeed may happen.

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