“The sky will spill with stars.”
NASA’s prediction for this year’s much-anticipated Perseid Meteor shower (August 10-12, 2016).
The Perseid Meteor Shower occurs every year when the 16-mile long, 11th century Comet Swift Tuttle passes by Earth on its orbit around the sun leaving a trail of celestial dust in its wake. Shooting stars occur when pieces of this stardust (some the size of a grain of sand) burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere leaving a streak of light across our night sky. This year was much hyped in astronomical circles due to the unusually closer gravitational pull of the planet Jupiter to earth. Scientists were anticipating a double dose of star power. At the peak of this year’s star storm, NASA was predicting 200 shooting stars a minute.
“Surely,” I announced at breakfast, “I will see a shooting star.”
I gathered my brood of six, and we headed for the beach on the evening of August 10th to witness this cosmic star storm in all her glory. Secretly, I lamented the fact that I was unlucky when it came to star-gazing. The last time I saw a shooting star was over ten years ago. Two by two, we made our way down the boardwalk in the pitch black and took our places like sardines under the majestic open sky. The three and five year old quickly lost patience and turned their attention to hunting for crabs and sea turtles in the dunes. It didn’t take long before my husband called out, “shooting star” and then again. Next, was my teenage son Charlie, “Oh, that was cool.” I believe it was my daughter Elise, after spying three in a row, who boasted, “This is like the 4th of July!” I was getting a neck ache from searching the night canopy for a celestial sign.
That night, I went home disappointed—A shut out! And the next night too. Apparently, the night sky was to become my classroom on faith.
One of my professors at Vanderbilt Divinity School, described faith as living between the last time you heard or experienced God until the next time you brushed against the Divine presence. In secret, who among us wouldn’t love some black and white proof: a supernatural sign, a theophany, maybe even an angelic visitation? Most of us are modern-day doubting Thomas’s who long to touch the supernatural to believe. In an Amazon one-click culture, we expect “glory” at the snap of a finger or a quick swipe across the screen. But just as the resplendent cosmos confounds astronomers, God remains an infinite mystery to the human mind and heart.
In my experience, faith is a curious and sometimes discouraging endeavor. God has yet to appear to me in a burning bush nor have the heavens opened up to hear God’s thundering voice, “You are my beloved.” And yet, my heart knows this to be true. Just as I know that there are shooting stars happening in every night sky even if I cannot see them. I’m reminded of what St. Paul said, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Ask any astronomer and they will tell you that your chances of seeing a shooting star, telescope pointed to the ground, is unlikely. It is the same with faith-gazing. God instills a curiosity in our hearts for the spiritual, but we have to act upon it. God’s presence in my own life has proven more subtle like little whispers and gentle nudges. But you string a couple of these together and suddenly you have a constellation of hope to hold onto. I understand faith as living one glimmer to the next. And sometimes we have to squint as Flannery O’Connor once said to see grace at work from out of the corner of our eye.
Faith is really just another word for divine trust. You have to believe in your secret depths that come what may, there is something larger than yourself and the cosmos—A greater plan—at work. And then have the courage to trust all that you are, all that you hope to be and all that you love over to it.
A soul-nourishing faith is a life long search for God: No easy answers. Patience required. Glimpses of grace promised.
NASA released a list of the best ways to enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower. The irony in astronomy and in life is the darker the night, the greater chance to witness God scattering stardust across our night skies. We are each going to have dark nights of the soul convinced there is not a single star in our sky. But that’s when true faith comes alive inside us. It’s easy to confess faith when the sky spills with stars. But true, abiding faith is believing in life’s blackouts. What’s the other option? A sky absent of stars, a life without God? Or, we can surrender and dare to trust that God is in control and a wondrous, redeeming and loving plan is in place even if we cannot see it now.
On the third and final night, I returned to the beach to try again. I must have sat there for hours star-gazing. Just when I was about to turn in for the night, a bolt of light shot across the sky above me. I was speechless. My husband looked in my direction with a smile, “Saved the best for last!” They call these types of shooting stars, “earth-grazers,” because they gift viewers with a long, colorful streak across the horizon. They are rare but memorable.
Sometimes God comes to us in barely a whisper after months gazing into the dark. But every now and again, God surprises us with a message written in stardust across our skies: “I am here!”
Live in Hope,