The stars were sharp, clear. I might have been able to identify them if I tried, but I didn’t try. I just looked up, and a fleeting memory of a Walt Whitman poem passed through my thoughts, really more of the mood, the feeling, of the poem than the actual words themselves.
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much
applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
I think too much sometimes. And there are things that rest in the heart that are beyond thinking.
That is what I like about this poem. It points out an error in the way we teach children. The instructor thinks that stars can be explained, and categorized, and measured, and quantified, and in that we will know stars. But the best way to appreciate stars is to walk in silence and simply look at them.
My favorite time to look at the stars is during a rare set of circumstances.
It snows here in the Willamette Valley about every third year. And when it does I like to get up very early, say 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and go down to the nearest state park, Molalla River State Park, and walk in the clean snow and look up at the sky. The faint starlight is enough to brilliantly light up the snow on the trees, the ground, and make everything fresh, new.
It wasn’t snowing the other morning, in fact it must have been in the upper 40s. There is something comforting about stars in the early morning.
My friend said he wanted a cup of tea and went into a nearby building. I followed him, hung about for a bit, and walked back out.
There was something near, other than stars, flickering toward my heart.
After a few minutes we drove back toward home, away from the 4 am vigil at the trappist monastery. As we drove away we spoke softly about faith, people, our history together. I felt I was being drawn away from something special.
It isn’t that I want to become a trappist monk. I’m not even Catholic. But there is something there in that chapel. The same thing I find in those snowy fields between the lines of woods along the river.
My wife and I like to go for walks together. Usually we chat about things. Our kids. Things we have read recently. Songs that are going through our heads. Sometimes we simply walk together. Happy to be near each other.
There is a special feeling in that deep companionship when she and I are at peace with each other and our lives and are simply together.
I go walking every lunch around the track at our school. I plug my iPod into my ears, put on something spiritual, perhaps classical, and pray. I sometimes feel like dancing I feel so good. There is a special feeling of companionship when I am at peace with Him and my life and praying.
My coworkers think I’m trying to shed weight.
I recently did a lot of reading about prayer. I got some very good books about types of prayer, and attitudes of prayer. I searched the Bible and read various prayers and descriptions of prayers. There are thankful prayers, and begging prayers. There are prayers of praise, and prayers of intercession. Prayers spoken to the face of God and prayers when God is very distant. Prayers in community and prayers in solitude.
All prayers fall short of what they should be. We were designed to be in close proximity to the Lord God, walking together in the Garden, in a park, and we have pulled so far from Him in our adolescent bid for independence that we have trouble drawing close to Him.
We get so trapped in our lives. We hustle from place to place, task to task. I teach five different classes during the school day. I am constantly scrambling to sort kids’ names, and lesson plans, and roll sheets, and parent meetings, and emails.
But when I go for a prayer walk at the cemetery before work, or stop by the prayer room after work... when I step outside of my life, especially into the sweet environment of a place dedicated to prayers, such as a trappist monastery at four in the morning, I feel a special companionship.
What is it that I felt, looking up at the stars while an echo of a Whitman poem flickered through my heart?
I felt Him.
I felt Him near, and I knew He loves me, that He wants to be near me, and for the brief moments when my heart is turning quietly toward points of light, their journeys toward me beginning while a man was being nailed to a cross, I am closer to being who I was created to be than at any other time.
The stars are lovely.
*Post: Untrapped, is archived, September 4, 2005