Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Star Struck
distributed 11/1/02 & 5/11/07 - ©2007

A few years ago, my brother and I spent three days on a leisurely canoe trip down the Colorado River.

We drifted with the current and took walks to explore slick-rock canyons. We camped beside the river under crystal-clear skies on moonless nights far away from city lights. And spread over us were the stars in all of their glory.

We were both caught up in an experience of awe and wonder. The ancient geology of stone layers sculpted by wind and water touched our spirits by day. At night, it was impossible to look up at the canopy of stars and not be moved.

Our few days away from the modern world provided many contrasts to our normal lives. We were pulled into a delightfully different pace and perspective.

One of those evenings, my brother offered a profound insight that expanded from our personal experience into a social awareness. He raised the idea that the biggest change that we modern humans have had in our experience of the world has not come through computers and the Internet. It has not come from automobiles and airplanes. It comes from the fact that we don't see the stars.

Up until 100 years ago, almost every person on this planet would see, on a regular basis, the sort of stars that we saw that night. But now, in our urban, electrified, polluted world, such a view is a rare experience.

It is not just that many people today have missed out on a beautiful sight. The fact that we don't see the stars has warped our collective sense of identity.

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Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise. It starts by singing of the power and glory of God in nature:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
That awe is a universal experience when confronted with the stars. Of course, the psalm goes on from there ...
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet.
The psalm talks of the duality of our human experience. We know ourselves both as infinitesimally small and overwhelmingly powerful. It has been said that the Bible affirms the simultaneous magnificence and triviality of the individual human being. Both experiences are true. And theologically, neither can be addressed correctly without remembering the other side.

Under the stars, we can remember both sides of the equation. But as my brother pointed out, most people now don't see the stars. Most people now don't have that awe-inspiring sense of being infinitesimal and trivial. We only see ourselves as powerful and important, "crowned with glory and honor."

Without a regular view of the stars -- or some similar gut-level experience -- our sense of self gets out of balance. Our relationship with God, God's creation, and other people becomes distorted.

What used to be an everyday occurrence now has to be an intentional spiritual discipline. Many of us need to schedule a trip away from the lights so that we can look deeply into the sky. We need to make a special effort if we want to see more than the 100 brightest stars. We need to make an appointment for an encounter with God.

Our lives, personally and collectively, are kept in better balance when that stunning insight of God's majesty can break in at unexpected moments. When the breath can be knocked out of you by a casual glance at the sky as you're walking into the house after work. When the question, "what are human beings that you are mindful of them?" hits us as we are feeling most proud of ourselves.

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Dark Sky Week is an annual opportunity (in April) to raise awareness about light pollution.

Some states and communities are enacting laws to control light pollution. They are insisting that street lights and signs on buildings be designed so that the illumination goes where it is needed, and not into the sky. There are new lighting products for homes and businesses being designed specifically to reduce light pollution.

Properly designed lighting saves money and energy. It also can help us reclaim the everyday experience of seeing the stars, and being touched by the awe-inspiring wonder of God's infinite creation.

Working for legislation that controls light pollution is a perfect way for a congregation to bring together spirituality, environmental commitments, and political advocacy. Contact your city council members and state legislators, and pressure them to take the lead in bringing back the beauty of dark skies.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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