Saturday, 13 December 2014

Star Light, Star Bright

moon at midsummer, just before dawn

Each night when I go to bed I pause before I pull down the blind on our skylight, and look across the roof tops and up, up. The city lights stop me seeing many of the things I'd like to see, but all the same, there is the darkness, and there is, well, the universe. Most of all, I love to see the moon, and I love to see Venus as though sailing close on the clouds, and I love to see Orion ... so watching on a clear night is a moment of delight. As a little girl, I'd incant that child-chant:
full moon on the way up to the Tor

'Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight,
wish I may, wish I might,
grant the wish I wish tonight!'

But these days I don't wish on a star so often, I find other words in my mind, and it is usually these:

'Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me,
which I did not know.'

A favourite text, from the Book of Job 42:3. It's my kind of wrapping up of the day.  Somehow I find it reassuring that the sum of what we don't know, faced with the expanse of the universe, almost infinitely outweighs what we do know. It's a great leveller.

And I really like the fact that it's in the Bible, round about the middle in a Christian version, because it throws a spanner in the works, for anyone who likes to think they've got it all wrapped up. We haven't. The Great Mystery wins every time. OK, some people talk more sense than others, but the wisdom is not in the words as much as how we interpret them, just as we can go on looking at the night sky for ever and see nothing of any meaning, or we can really look, look deeply, look patiently, look as part of a network of wise watchers, over many many years, and rediscover, above all, awe.

a couple of Rollright stones
We've been trying to work things out, pin things down, for ever - and we sometimes do a pretty impressive job it has to be said - stone circles are one of my great loves. The signs of brilliant minds who mapped and charted the heavens unaided by technology, just by watching, patiently and intelligently, collaboratively, over generations. But again, for all our contemporary conjecture about what they were used for, we don't really know. The stones, rings of fiddlers and dancing maidens, petrified witches, knights in council and the rest, laugh wildly at our ignorance.

Albert Einstein has to be one of my favourite 'great minds' and sources of one liners, not that I can pretend to understand the theories with which he gifted the world, but he looks so disarmingly like someone who would have trouble remembering where he put his pencil from one minute to the next. He was not just clever but wise; he had not just looked into and reported on, but drawn something meaningful out of the Mystery. On what I guess was a bad day, on the subject of the infinite and our ignorance, we get a rather harsh 'Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.' But he also suggested a way out of that 'infinite stupidity', that resonates through time and space; resonates, I am sure, with the people who made the stone circles, and so many others who went before us and left no trace:

broken concrete slab star
'Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.'

Albert Einstein

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