As the ancients gazed at the heavens, theirs was a linear mindset. The great lights that shone from the sky above were merited according to their size and obvious presentation. The stars were a mystery, and of little importance until Galileo realised that glass could magnify. The moon was the night star which, through its monthly patterns gave light and caused shadows in equal measure. The sun was the centre of life, a focal point, both for its size, but even more importantly for its warmth and its strength. It was typical of our human arrogance that all three were presumed to circulate around the earth, which was stationary and probably flat! While we may scoff at such basic understandings of the heavenly lights, our forefathers were very quick to learn about the benefits of each heavenly phenomenon. The stars were fixed in the heavens and therefore could provide direction points for travellers on sea and land alike. Unlike the moon which would wax and wane, the North Star and the constellations provided a fixed point of reference. The moon became a focus of mystical worship, its eerie night time glow prompting an emotional stirring in the heart of humans. But it was the sun, with its life-giving and life sustaining heat and light that was considered the greatest of the heavenly lights.
It was a logical assumption. The sun was larger and consistently present, even if blocked by clouds. The movement of the sun around the earth on its daily cycles led to some amazing man-made structures to capture that light. Not least of these is the wondrous tunnel leading to the heart of Newgrange with its perfect alignment with the Equinox sun. The moon was constantly changing, dazzling the earth when it was full, but smaller and less reliable than the blazing sun. As for the stars, they twinkled and directed travellers, but were too small and insignificant to be anything more than portents and signs of what was happening on earth.
Of course we now know that our primal assumptions were way off the mark. Those distant twinkling stars beam light that had to travel eons and millions of light years to be present in our night sky. Most of them could dwarf our own star, the sun, thousands of times over. The moon is the only one of those heavenly lights that actually orbits the earth, and has no light-forming or shining properties of its own, it merely reflects the light of the sun. However, it does have semi-magical powers in how it affects the tides of the earth’s oceans. Our sun, though huge to us, is just the right size and intensity to sustain rather than destroy life on earth. It is not a two dimensional ‘searchlight’ fixed in the sky orbiting our planet, rather it is a gigantic fireball that draws the earth and the other planets around its gravitational orbit.
As our scientific knowledge of the heavenly lights has increased so has our perspective. That which is huge to us, is not necessarily actually the largest, or even the most important. This is true in our daily lives too. So often, the problem or worry we are struggling with seems huge and insurmountable; so much so that it consumes our energy, our hope and our sleep. However, in the greater scheme of things our personal worries and fears are worthy of a lot less attention than we give them. Sometimes that which seems distant, detached and irrelevant is actually the very thing we need to survive. Sometimes we spend our days reacting and responding to reflected shadows, and focussing on that which gives neither light nor hope. Our perspective can be way too limited to give us a true sense of what life is really about.
Lent, Holy Week and Easter remind us that there is so much more to life than what we think and feel. While not a popular world-view, I believe in Absolutes, Realities that exist whether we believe in them or not. Our perspective of God is often one of distance, separation, even indifference, when in reality, God’s unconditional Love and Presence is immediately available at any time. Holy Week reminds us of the immense journey God undertook to bring us light and hope. We simply do not have the words or concepts to capture the immensity and majesty of God, so we use music, art and beauty to try to grasp the eternal. Some of us put our focus on reflected light, because it is much easier to get our heads around and to contain. Often this approach focusses our faith and action on the symbols and rituals of our understanding of God rather than on God himself. This leads to an over emphasis in established churches on buildings, structures and rituals rather than on a life-giving relationship with a loving God.
This past twelve months of restrictions and recurring lockdowns has reminded us of how much we were taking for granted. We are yearning for the things that really matter; hugs, communal gatherings, worshipping together, travelling and so much more. We have also learned of the essential need we have to belong, to be part of a community. It is a bit like we are planets who crave and need the gravitational pull of Love as we orbit our Heavenly God, who has given us His risen Son.