It’s ok if you want to hold off on reading this blog for a minute and just do a quite Google Image search for “night sky”. It’s alright. Don’t worry. The blog will still be here when you come back.
What did you think? The night sky is a big reason why I don’t think that I could live in the city for my entire life. Right now I can see about a handful of stars in the entire sky. That is incredibly depressing. I remember one time when I was a kid, my dad got us all up on the roof of our house to lie down and watch the Leonid Meteor Shower. We were up there for what seemed like an eternity staring intently, waiting to see those streaks of light. I remember that moment as the first time that I really recognized the vastness of existence. The Earth is a giant spaceship that is hurtling through space at 67,000 MPH and sometimes it collides with objects that burn up in our atmosphere and grant us wishes. That was the first time that I can remember realizing along with Copernicus that the stars aren’t circling me, I’m the one that is moving.
(blog footnote: I recognize that the stars are also moving and that space itself is expanding, but the apparent movement across the night sky is a result of the Earth’s rotation, not the stars’).
Aaaaaand we’re back. Do you love the stars as much as I do? They guided the ancient travelers, inspired the poets, and lead a couple of very rich men to the baby Jesus. Why do we love them so much? What is it about the shimmering sea above our heads that fills us with such reverent awe? Why have so many religions sought the answers to life’s most pressing questions hidden within their elegant, circular dance? I think it’s because in some way, we all look up at sky and see our home.
Do you have kids? When they inevitably ask you where babies come from, I dare you to tell them this…
Billions of years ago, stars were burning brightly like they are today although they didn’t have any friends to keep them company. There were only a few elements in the universe and that made them sad. So they all decided to run out of nuclear fuel, become highly unstable, and explode in enormous, unimaginable supernovas. These cosmic fireworks were where carbon was formed. Carbon is the main reason why anything is alive. Your DNA is made out of carbon, your body is made out of carbon, and everything that walks, swims, flies, and squirms on this Earth is made out of carbon. The carbon from those supernovas was drawn together with other heavy elements by gravity and eventually formed planets. One planet in particular also attracted gas molecules to form an atmosphere, and over the course of millions of years and God (currently) only knows how, that carbon started to walk around. Eventually that carbon gained consciousness in its big carbon-brain and was able to learn about its long and difficult journey. Now that carbon is able to look up at the stars at its home and think about itself in a way that it never could imagined before it could imagine things. Those carbon-beings also have sex and that’s how babies are made!
How does it make you feel that you are literally a star? The molecules in your body can be traced back to supernovas all over the galaxy. It apparently makes Neil DeGrasse Tyson “want to grab people in the street and say, ‘Have you heard this!?'”. I tend to agree with him. This is amazing! Why do I treat my body with such low regard? Why am I so self conscious about how I look? I AM MADE OUT OF STARS THAT EXPLODED! What?!
Does looking out at the stars with this revelation make you feel small? Do you feel insignificant? If so, then you might have had an inflated ego to begin with. The entire span of the cosmos, all 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars that probably exist are your family. You may be a tiny speck in this kind of picture, but that’s ok! You are a PART of that expanse. All of those stars are your aunts and uncles, your cousins, and your grandparents. St. Francis was right on when he talked about nature as his family. It makes me think twice about discrediting panentheism. Breathe that truth in. Let it sit with you for a moment. The stars are your extended family. The night sky is your family portrait. You are among a very small portion of your family that is able to recognize that. Breathe in the bigness.
Want more bigness? Here is something that never gets brought up in Christmas homilies for some reason. God is 1/3 human. Yes you read that right. The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century were fascinated with this, and so am I. The real miracle of Christmas is not that God became human but that humanity was assumed into the Godhead. After Jesus was born, everything changed. By whatever kind of divine wonder, God humbled Godself to become one of us. In fact, God did more than that. Jesus was born in a pile of manure to an unwed teenage mother in an occupied territory and became a homeless vagrant who was killed by the government. That’s serious humility. After he was killed, he was raised from the dead and after hanging out with his friends for a while, went back up to be with his Father. Jesus never stopped being human. He is still human. My feminist theology professor in college was fond of snapping the class back on task by saying, “Jesus has a penis”. Jesus has a body. God has a body. God took hold of a lump of carbon and made for Godself a body to live in for all eternity. Not only are we all made of stars, but so is God. We can actually relate to God now. It isn’t just a creator/creation relationship anymore. We’re family in a very real and substantive way. The arms that He wants to hold you in are literal arms. He sees you with eyes that probably have a color. What color are Jesus’ eyes? God is 1/3 human.
So that is what I see when I look up at the stars. I see my family, I see God, and I see an enormous story of which I am a small part. While I may only play a very small part in the story, I can still claim the story as my own. What a wonder it is to be made of carbon.