I sometimes wonder if people who live in the countryside have a better appreciation for God’s creation than we city folk?
I’m specifically thinking of the ability to see the majesty of God’s handiwork as seen in the starry night sky.
Living in a big city (in my case, Toronto), I’m only able to see a handful of heavenly bodies. I can see the Big Dipper and a smattering of other stars, bright planets such as Venus, and the moon in its phases. But that’s about it.
Big cities produce so much ambient light that it obscures our view of the wonder of the night sky. That’s why many jurisdictions are creating what’s known as “dark sky preserves.” These are regions far enough away from the lights of built-up urban areas that the majority of stars can still be seen.
Governments commit to protecting these preserves from development so that the full range of the starry sky will always be visible from those areas. They seem to understand that it’s important for us to be able to maintain our connection with the night sky, and see it the way our ancestors did.
Perhaps we should take a page from their book, and create some “dark sky preserves” in our own lives.
I don’t mean areas from which to see the night sky, but spaces in our lives that remind us of God’s majesty and creative ingenuity as expressed in nature.
Do you ever get a bit anxious when faced with something completely new?
Like how to find a new job in an economy that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before? Or how to navigate a world that’s turned upside-down?
Many of us shrink from the prospect of entering uncharted territory.
And we’re not the only ones: even some animals balk when confronted with something unfamiliar.
Cows are notorious for disliking disruptions to their routines and environments. They’re particularly averse to new gates. Cows are made so nervous by new entrances and openings that they’ll stubbornly resist going through them.
This trait is so well known that it’s given rise to the phrase, “like a cow looking at a new gate.” It means to view something with bewilderment and confusion, as though to say, “Are you serious? I’m not going through that.”
Do you feel this way when faced with the uncertainties that the new year may bring? Is fear of the unknown keeping you from stepping forward in faith to realize your dreams?
Fear has a way of paralyzing us, so that we stay stuck where we are instead of trying something new.
If you live in an region where the trees drop their leaves in the fall, you’ll have noticed something.
Some species of trees are quick to cast off their leaves once the weather turns colder. In my area, the mountain ash trees are always the first to be denuded of leaves in October.
Other trees seem more reluctant to give up their leafy attire, holding on stubbornly until the frost and the wind finally make them release their grip. In my backyard, an old sugar maple is usually the laggard.
The most notorious holdouts, however, are immature beech trees. They retain their dried leaves through the whole winter, only dropping them when the new growth of spring finally forces the old leaves off the branches.
We can be a bit like young beech trees, too, I think.
We may hold on too long to something that isn’t working, despite evidence that we should let it go.
Or we may cling to a dream that is clearly unrealistic, even though God is trying to nudge us in a different direction.
Sometimes God is telling us that it’s time to turn over a new leaf, so to speak. He wants us to cast off outmoded ways of thinking and let go of unproductive ways of doing things.
Sometimes we don’t realize what we’re looking at, do we?
This winter solstice is a good example of that, because tonight we’ll be able to see a particularly bright “star” in the night sky.
That is, you might assume it’s a star, but you’ll actually be seeing something quite different.
This rare “Christmas star” will actually be a planetary conjunction. The planets Jupiter and Saturn will be so closely aligned tonight that they will appear to be one ultra-bright object.
At other times, a bright “star” you see might actually be a binary star system; that is, two stars orbiting each other. Or it could be the planet Venus. You’d need to study it through a telescope, adjust your focus and consult an astronomical guide to know for sure.
The truth is, sometimes we don’t really understand what we’re seeing.
That was certainly true for many of the people who saw the baby Jesus and the star which heralded His birth.
It can be hard to hold on to hope when winter is coming, can’t it?
The trees and shrubs seem barren of any evidence that life will ever reemerge. It can be rather depressing.
But if you look closely at certain plants during winter, you’ll see something exciting:
Yes, some plants, such as magnolias, actually set their flower buds for next year during the previous growing season. You can see these buds on the branches all winter long.
In the case of magnolias, the buds are encased in a hairy protective scale to insulate them from the cold, almost like a silvery fur coat. When the time is right the next spring, the flowers are all ready to burst open into glorious bloom.
Isn’t it encouraging to know that the promise of next year’s flowers is already there during the bleak winter?
In the same way, the seeds of your comeback are forming deep within you.
How have you been sleeping recently? Do you find yourself waking at night, worried about the future?
Wish you could sleep as soundly as your pet?
Cats and dogs have an advantage when it comes to sleeping deeply. They’re predator animals: in the wild, canines and felines are hunters. Large predator mammals generally spend more time in deep non-REM sleep than their prey.
Prey animals such as rabbits or deer, the hunted, spend more time in lighter non-REM sleep. They also experience very little REM sleep at all. Their survival is dependent on being permanently alert, and the paralysis of REM sleep would make them too vulnerable to their predators.
I wonder if the poor sleep we humans often experience relates to our feeling “hunted,” relentlessly chased by worries, deadlines, and obligations?
Is there a way we can calm our anxious minds and get a good night’s rest?
Yes! I believe the Bible offers some tips to help us sleep better.
The joyful symphony of birdsong that graced the spring and summer months has diminished. In these parts, most birds have already flown south for the winter by now. The backyards and parks seem unnaturally quiet, with nary a chirp to be heard.
It can leave us feeling bereft, like we’re all alone.
But we’re never as alone as we might think, as we’ll see from some encouraging accounts in the Bible.
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.