Many of us have GPS systems in our cars or on our phones. They allow us to pinpoint our locations on a map, letting us know exactly where we are.
But in the days before modern technology, how did people navigate? If they needed to cross an ocean, what told them where they were?
The North Star did.
More formally known as Polaris, the North Star is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. Because it’s almost in a direct line above the Earth’s north celestial pole, the North Star appears to stand motionless in the sky, with the other stars seeming to rotate around it.
This made it a perfect fixed point by which to draw measurements for celestial navigation. In fact, the Old English word for the North Star meant “ship-star,” reflecting its use in helping to chart a course when sailing.
We still need a north star today.
Not to get from point A to point B in our vehicles, but to navigate the seas of our lives. When our whole world has turned topsy-turvy, we need a fixed point to focus on to keep us on a stable course.
When you look up at the stars in the night sky, what do you feel?
Many people say the vastness of the universe and the countless stars make them feel puny and insignificant.
In a way, that’s understandable.
The star that Earth orbits around is just one of many in the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. In fact, there are perhaps 100 billion stars in our cosmic “neighbourhood.”
And the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies. Estimates vary as to how many galaxies exist in the observable universe: some experts suggest a couple hundred billion, and others postulate as many as 10 trillion.
It’s impossible for us to know how many stars there are in the observable universe, but here’s the largest guess I came across: Multiplying the higher number of estimated galaxies by the Milky Way’s estimated 100 billion stars gives a possibility of 1 septillion stars in the universe (1 quadrillion in the European system). That’s a “1” with 24 zeroes after it!
The Milky Way is so enormous that, even travelling at light speed, it would take 100,000 years to travel across it. The observable universe is incredibly more vast: according to current thinking, it’s about 93 billion light years in diameter.
No wonder people feel small when they contemplate the unimaginable expanse of the universe!
But for me, this knowledge doesn’t make me feel insignificant.
Have you ever thought that God could never use you in His service?
That you’re unqualified because you don’t have any special skills or talents?
Moses thought the same way.
God called him to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, but Moses thought he wasn’t qualified to do so. He came up with excuse after excuse as to why he shouldn’t be chosen. He clearly felt that he didn’t have what it took.
But God can use us even when we feel ill-equipped. He takes us as we are and can use whatever we have at hand, no matter how meagre it seems.
We seem to have difficulty being still these days, don’t we?
For many of us, life happens at warp speed. We’re always on the go, and have little downtime to pause and reflect on things.
But with all our constant motion, are we missing out on something?
Recently, I visited a park with a pond large enough to almost be a small lake. A slight breeze left ripples on the water, disturbing the reflection of the trees in the distance. The image on the water’s surface was wavy and impressionistic, not a true representation of the landscape nearby.
I then walked to a different part of the park where a river flowed lazily into the pond. The water was running slowly, and because it was sheltered from the breeze in this area, it was very still. The trees here were perfectly reflected in the water, giving a mirror image of their true forms.
I guess that to get the best reflection in water, stillness is the key.
Perhaps the spiritual lesson here is that if our lives are too frantic, it’s hard for us to reflect Christ.
A chickadee may have a bird-brain, but it can actually be pretty smart.
Especially if it lives in a harsh climate.
What does climate have to do with bird intelligence? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.
Biologists have discovered that chickadees living in the mountains or in northern latitudes, where the weather is more severe, were smarter than their peers living more comfortably down below.
Chickadees from harsher habitats had superior spatial memories and problem-solving abilities than those living in gentler climes. They were better at finding stored caches of food and at figuring out how to access a worm treat that scientists had cleverly tucked into a glass tube.
The harsh environment makes their brains work a bit harder.
Is there a lesson for humans in the example of the chickadees?
Yes, but it isn’t to move to a more wintry climate (take it from a Canadian who’s done her share of shovelling snow—it hasn’t made me smarter!).
The takeaway here is that there can be unseen benefits to the challenges we face.
One of the greatest natural events on Earth is now underway: the migration of the monarch butterfly.
Each fall, millions of these colourful insects set off from their summer breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S. and Canada for a gruelling journey. They travel thousands of miles across North America all the way to Mexico, where they’ll spend the winter.
Many people believe that the monarch butterflies which leave in the fall are the same ones which arrive back in the spring, but this isn’t so. Individual butterflies don’t make the entire round-trip journey. The ones which migrate from the northeastern part of North America in fall will never return.
Rather, their great-great-grandchildren are the ones who will arrive the following spring, as successive generations keep making their way north. The entire annual migration cycle of the monarch takes about four generations.
Perhaps I’m being fanciful, but I can imagine monarch butterflies telling their children of the awesome journey they’ll be undertaking. They may say that they’ll only be able to go part of the way with them, but to keep the faith and keep going.
Maybe they encourage their children to tell successive generations to keep believing in the promise of return. Because eventually, their descendants will see the promise fulfilled.
Some things are better when they don’t come too easily, aren’t they?
Like making butter yourself. When I was a child, I had the chance to do just that.
On a visit to my grandparents’ farm, my grandmother handed me a closed jar with rich cream inside it from their dairy cows. She instructed me to shake the jar vigorously.
I did so, but didn’t see much happening. I wanted to give up, but Grandma told me to keep agitating the jar. I obeyed, and soon started to see clumps forming inside the jar.
Grandma knew it wasn’t ready yet, however, and instructed me to keep going. My little arms were getting tired, but eventually Grandma told me I could stop. The cream had finally transformed into the right consistency.
I had made butter! (Well, technically, I suppose most of the credit should go to the cows.)
It was hard work making that fresh butter, but the taste of it was heavenly on fresh bread. It was vastly superior to the blocks of chilled butter you buy in the supermarket. Not only did it taste wonderful, I appreciated the butter more because I’d put in the work myself to make it.
Sometimes God lets us go through the effort of doing things for ourselves, doesn’t He?
You can get all manner of products printed with this slogan: T-shirts, mugs, posters, and notecards.
But is that always the best advice? Maybe not. There’s something to be said for not staying in the same place for too long.
Your garden will tell you that if you plant the same type of vegetable in the same plot year after year, you’ll notice that the health of the plant and the yield it produces will begin to suffer. The plant will be attacked by more diseases and pests, and the nutrients in the soil will have been depleted by past crops of the same type.
The answer to this problem? Crop rotation.
Don’t plant the same type of vegetable or crop in the same location several years running. Mix it up; plant something new in that spot.
What about in life?
Does God intend us to stay rooted to the same location for much of our lives?
Have you ever cooked a dish which turned out to be plainly inedible, or even downright dangerous to consume?
It can happen to the best of us, as these examples prove:
A grandmother with failing eyesight accidentally grabbed a bottle of ammonia instead of vinegar when making potato salad for her family. They started gagging at the mere smell of it, which fortunately prevented anyone from eating it!
An 18-year-old living on his own for the first time wanted to make fried rice. He poured some oil into a very hot pan, then dumped in a bunch of uncooked rice. Needless to say, the burned mess had to be thrown out.
Another young person forgot to add water when cooking packaged ramen noodles. I guess cooking isn’t for everyone!
Did you know that a cooking fail even happened in the Bible?