The first was here in southeastern Massachusetts. It was a cold, crisp winter night. The bare branches of trees formed a nearer network with the scattered constellations behind. My breath formed clouds that were closer still. Awesome. Wonderful.
It reminded me of a story a man in my congregation shared. One winter night up in Vermont he walked out to the middle of a frozen lake and lay down to look at the stars. Beneath him he could hear air bubbles popping. Ice is not silent - it groans and shifts making eerie sounds. He says it was a deeply spiritual experience - he felt his oneness with the lake and with that wide starry sky.
As a child growing up in rural South Dakota I remember admiring at the night sky in summer. We were not close to any large city and on a really clear night you could discern the cloud of the Milky Way galaxy, a glittering band sweeping across the prairie firmament. Awe. Wonder, shared in the safety of family gathered in the warm evening.
Last week, at a professional development institute in Monterey, California, I walked out towards the ocean after dinner. It was a clear night, cool. As I stood with neck craned back, a stranger walking towards me said something about how lovely it was. Indeed. I lay down on a bench to drink it all in. As my eyes adapted to the dark more stars became visible to me. Again they inspired wonder. Awe.
And danger? Hm. I suppose it can be dangerous to an inflated sense of self to connect with something so immense. Humbling. But then again, a little humility can be a good thing. It can show us who think too much the limits of the human mind, which cannot take in what the heart and soul can expand to experience.
Such expansion can feel unsafe to a spirit, a mind, a heart not accustomed to such grandeur. And yet it is a good and wholesome thing to sense the largeness of the universe and our place in it. Some suggest our place in it is to do just that - to notice the immensity of the cosmos. It can be a healthy thing to worship.