Days in the Doldrums, Nights in the Heavens

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What day is it? I have never asked that question more often than I have this year.  Ever since March, when ordinary life became stuck in the rut of stay-at-home orders I’ve struggled to get a grip on the basic reference points of the week. As a pastor, I’m used to the rhythm of Sunday worship, Wednesday Bible study, coffee break, and Catechism.

Stranger still, at the same time the whole world shut down, my wife’s mother went on hospice, the end of a years-long battle with cancer. So while my wife was away for half the week taking care of her mom, I took care of the kids and supervised their school work. I’d ask my kids, “What day is it?” None of us knew.

What do you do when you’re home for weeks and months, stuck with nowhere to go? How do you get out when the furthest you can go is across the street so the kids can ride their bikes in the church parking lot? What was I going to do with my time during these days I could not keep straight?

The answer was overhead. Every night the sun sets, the sky darkens, the stars come out, and the constellations wheel across the sky. I had a telescope. I had a backyard. I could get “out of the neighborhood” that way. Several nights a week I would carry my 6-inch telescope out into the yard and figure out, slowly, what it was I was looking at. Here was Orion and its glowing sword, a nebula. Here was Cygnus and its wonderful double star, Albireo. Here was Bootes and a triple star. Here was Hercules and its magnificent star cluster. Here were Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. I could take all the time I needed to learn the night sky, because I had all the time in the world to figure it out.

But the constellations keep moving, marking the times and the passing of seasons. So, too, in life and in death, when my wife’s dear mother entered her rest in the care of her Savior, Jesus. It was a heavy season, a hard year, a time when you barely care what day it is.

From time to time the Scriptures feature the stars. God told Abraham to go out and look at the stars and count them if he could. The Psalmist insists that we humbly contemplate the stars when we reflect on our place in God’s creation  And it was by a star that the Lord led the wise men to Jesus. 

I can’t see very many stars from my home in metro Los Angeles, but I began to learn the names of the stars I could see and enjoy their simple presence overhead. The Polynesian wayfinders, mariners sailing in the South Pacific, used an incredible awareness of their surroundings to find their way from one island to another, above all by the stars. Different islands had different guiding stars, meaning that one particular bright star was always straight overhead for that island. If you could get underneath it, you could find your way home. Sirius is the guide star over Tahiti, Spica over Samoa, Arcturus over Hawaii.  

Jesus, the way, truth, and life, has given us guide stars. When we look to Jesus we see his cross, we see his resurrection, we see his ascension and they are our guide stars. They announce the gracious work of Jesus for us and our salvation. They assure us that Jesus himself will see us home to the Father’s house and the new creation. Jesus is our true point of reference, the anchor of our faith whether we’re in the storm of trouble or the doldrums of stay-at-home orders. And that’s the truth every day of the week.

About the Author

Pastor Zach ministers at First CRC Bellflower in California, where he enjoys ministry as well as exploring the ocean, mountains, forests, rivers and heavens with his family by day and by night. Follow him on Instagram at instagram.com/rev_zev.

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