27 Sep 2009

"My God, It’s Full of Stars!"

All Posts No Comments

Putting this down into words will not do it justice, but I wanted to share my experience late Friday night. While walking home from the open bar on Mackinac Island, I was struck by how many stars I could see. If you’ve lived in a big city your whole life, you might be amazed at just how many you can see on a clear night when you get away from big buildings.

So I’m marveling at it but then I realize my view is still being hurt by the occasional streetlight. Across the street from the Grand Hotel is a golf course. Right near the sidewalk is a big sand trap, and I realize that if I just walk to the other side of it, the hill will be blocking the light from the street and I’ll be able to look up at a fairly uninterrupted view.

I stood there on the sidewalk wavering. It was about 1 in the morning, and it was cold out–I had come from Nashville and just brought a light jacket, so I wasn’t really prepared for the upper Michigan weather–and I wasn’t sure if it was worth sneaking onto the golf course just to see how many more stars were visible outside the blare of the streetlight. But something nudged me to go for it, and I don’t think it was Richard Thaler.

I waited for some other pedestrians to get out of sight, and then I walked onto the course and down the first hill. My mouth literally dropped open. I could not BELIEVE how many stars I could now see. I have never in my life seen so many in the night sky. It looked like a planetarium show, except this was the real deal. Whereas humans can create a similar show of beauty by projecting light from a machine onto a ceiling 30 feet or so above your head, here was the Lord of the universe putting on a similar show, except He decided to use balls of gas undergoing nuclear reactions, some of which were millions of light-years away.

After testing to see just how wet the grass was, I laid down and just stared up. I had to turn my head from side to side to drink it all in; I couldn’t capture it all without swiveling. I said “oh my gosh” and realized it wouldn’t be cursing for me to say “oh my God.” The second time I said it, I actually saw a “shooting star” the instant I said it, which was a nice finishing touch. (I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a shooting star in real life before.)

It was an extremely pleasant way to finish the night. To (greatly) paraphrase Richard Feynman who was making a different point: There needn’t be a tension between knowledge of the natural world and faith in God. In fact, the reason I was in such awe was that I had a (very vague) understanding of how far away the stars generating that light had to be. I don’t imagine that the fishermen hanging around Jesus would have appreciated the night sky more than I did a few days ago, simply because it was more of a “mystery” to them.

Comments are closed.