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We Are Stars Unaware
“What is to give light must endure burning.” (Viktor Frankl)
[we are made of stardust]
“Every atom of oxygen in our lungs, of carbon in our muscles, of calcium in our bones, of iron in our blood—was created inside a star before Earth was born.” (American Museum of Natural History)
You likely don’t think about this truth, unless you study the periodic table or love someone who breathes science like air. You are not merely your parents’ genetic pools, the same flesh and bones you have been carrying around since birth. You come from stars in untold galaxies, your skin and sinews woven into the web of the cosmos inside and out.
You stand as one among many, and this is how you shine. You are both the unique creation—startling and new, that never was before and never will be again—and the ancient origins of the cosmos. You are known and named, bound up with all that came before you.
You might never have puzzled about this fact, but it will change what you see once you do.
“He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.”
[we are sources of light]
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind…Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.”
(Philippians 2:1-2, 14-15)
Can anything hold a candle to the welcome warmth of a light left on for you? A glow in the darkness, a beacon through the window, a stubborn sign despite rain or snow or storm that someone is waiting for you.
What a wonder that we can shine on another, from light years away. Think of the handful you hold: friends whose faces brighten yours, names whose numbers light up your phone, the sparkling presence of the ones whose souls make yours feel at home. We are sources of light for each other, and this radiance need not depend on proximity. Think of literary luminaries among your favorite authors, poets, or philosophers from centuries back. Saint friends who guide across centuries and continents, surpassing the limits of space and time. Kindred spirits who went before you.
The best we can do for each other is to shine light: to live into the fullness of whatever warmth we can offer to enlighten and encourage. This is the candle in the winter window, the porch light left burning till the wee hours, the flash of the late-night text from the friend who says tell me when you get home, ok? Because we are all trying to get home.
“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”
[we are gathered into constellations]
“The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name.”
Once upon a moonlit beach, my grandfather told us the stories in the sky. Summer sun had slipped into dusk on the horizon, and Lake Michigan’s waves crashed upon the shore while we sat around the bonfire, watching flames leap to the heavens. His deep voice rumbled as he told us of Ursa Major and Minor, Casseopia and Cygnus, Pisces and Perseus. His twinkling eyes gleamed in the dark, and I shivered in the delicious cool, cuddled next to cousins, delighted to be up late and to be told a story, like every child before us.
Cultures around the world and across time have told tales about the stars, painting pictures in the sky: animals, objects, heroes, villains, and gods. Constellations are stories sprung from connections, long-ago legends still shining above. Not only twinkling stars but the invisible lines between lights tell the story.
When I crane my head to the heavens now, limited by light pollution and my own dulled vision, I am pulled back to my ancestors: to my grandfather on that darkened beach, to the ones who told him the stories in turn, generations stretching back in time. We are constellations of callings, connections that led us where we are today, wrapped in ancient threads with those who came before us.
Sky is the view we all share, the art above us in cities or coasts, mountains or deserts. Up is our orientation and our endpoint, the mystery stretching beyond the limits of our sight.
“[God] who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvelous things without number.”
[we are born to burn]
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near—
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
Brian Doyle called Christ the “gaunt, dusty man with starlight in his veins.” One of the oldest prophecies in Scripture calls him a star. Jesus called himself the light of the world, and have you ever stopped to scratch your head that this would make him the sun?
Every day he gave himself up—still gives himself up—burning with love, becoming what we need to survive, shining the way. We build our churches facing east and bury our beloved dead in the same direction, all of us sunflowers turning toward the Sun. For every liturgical argument about ad orientem—where to stand and when to bow—we forget that all of us are called to turn and burn: to give ourselves up to the Light that will lead us.
We cannot look directly at our closest star and doesn’t that tell us everything? The sun is too bright for us to behold, yet we depend on it for light, warmth, and life itself. What saves us cannot be seen straight-on, so we bow our heads.
“What is to give light must endure burning.” (Viktor Frankl)
[we will die]
Of course we are not stars. Of course we are creatures all our own, not cosmic beings but humans living in the humility of humus, made of breath and clay. Indeed (and inconveniently), our mortality is what gives us meaning. Death defines life: it will not go on like this forever, so we must make the most of now. One day everything will change, which begs the question to every person who has walked the dusty earth: what will you do with all your days till the last?
Listen, I will tell you a mystery. The people I know who live fully—who embrace the challenge with arms flung wide, who laugh the longest and loudest, who notice beauty in strange places, who peer into the human soul, who learn to forgive and admit their faults, who leave a legacy of love behind them—are the ones who know death. They have brushed again it themselves, or they have lost too many beloveds, or they have meditated upon the mysteries long enough to know it is fact to be faced, not to be feared.
We die, but so do stars—and their beauty comes from burning. If they stayed safe and small, the whole universe would be empty and dark. But burning is merely a change in state, not substance. Remember that what they once were, so now we are. Carbon and calcium and iron—all of these came from supernovas, each brilliant bursting explosion that was the death of something beautiful. A death that made even more life. An end that was a beginning.
“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead…The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
(1 Cor 15: 41-42, 47-49)
Look up tonight, all the way up. Strain your ear to the music of the spheres. Let the skies tell you a story. We are starlight and earthdust, heavenly bodies and earthen vessels. We are light-bearers and burning embers, constellations and mortal mysteries. We will not be here long and we will shine forever.
Listen: I will tell you a delight and a puzzle to ponder, a strange wonder to tilt your head heavenward, and when we are done with the wild familiar story, both of us are shining brighter, aren’t we?
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