Gift #4 — Stargazing and “Not Knowing”
Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving as you practiced your new habit of Gratitude. Have you been keeping your own TUG4 journal?
In my last post I mentioned the Wise Men as students of the stars. If you are not familiar with the story of the birth of Baby Jesus, I’m sure that reference is confusing. The Wise Men appear in the Christmas story in the book of Matthew 2:1-12. Here is the text from the New Revised Standard Version:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘and you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its risings, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
That’s all we really know about who these Wise Men were. They came from the East and they studied the stars. Notice Matthew does not even say how many there were. Christian tradition suggests it was three but that is because they offered three types of gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That’s it. That’s all we know.
I’ll be honest. I just Googled “who were the wise men” because I thought I might learn more about them. What I found were various commentaries on what we do and do not know based on Matthew’s writing and various traditions passed down from generation to generation. Most likely, they were educated men who used the stars not only for navigation but also to make predictions. They are the type of scholars who were probably supported by royalty and served as advisors to whoever was in power in their own country.
I think God winked at me this morning. I donated an old dictionary to a thrift store this morning, the same day I’m writing about giving yourself permission to “not know” the answers. Sitting down to write, I did a little research on the internet about how close the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is. It’s about 4.22 light years away. I also “Googled” the different parts of our eyes like the retina, cornea and iris. In my lifetime, finding information has changed from having to look something up in a heavy book like a dictionary to being able to “Google” a question and get an answer in seconds. Staring at stars night after night looking for answers like the Wise Men of Bible times just sounds painful. It also means there were many nights when no answers showed up. The thought of sitting still with “not knowing” certainly seems unacceptable today. And yet these men were considered “Wise.”
I went to high school in the 1970s when dictionaries and encyclopedias were all we had. Back then, the big bang theory of the creation of the universe was relatively new. Held up against the ancient Biblical story of creation it seemed really preposterous. (LOL. Just Googled that word.) Following a discussion in science class, I came home and asked my parents what they thought about the “big bang theory” vs. the Bible’s creation story. My father, who was an elementary school principal, gave a thoughtful answer. “I was not there when God created the universe. I have no idea how God measured a day. Before the earth rotated around the sun, a day could have been what we call a million years or a few seconds.”
Without realizing it in the moment, my father’s answer provided me with a profound gift. A gift I did not fully appreciate until I became a counselor. It’s the gift of “not knowing.” As my father, I would have trusted anything he might have told me. As an elementary school principal, his authority on matters of science carried a great deal of weight for me. And yet his answer amounted to an “I don’t know.” As a counselor it is not my job to have all the answers. (Although often my clients would prefer that I did.) It’s my job to ask the kinds of questions that help each person rediscover their own inner wisdom. So, I have learned to sit comfortably day after day, with “not knowing.”
In a world filled with the possibility of finding instant answers, that possibility can sometimes be transformed into the unrealistic expectation that we can have all the answers all the time. It can increase our anxiety when our text messages are not responded to instantly. It can fill us with overwhelming anxiety when we are waiting for test results or answers to prayers.
None of us has all the answers. We were not created to know everything. We were created to marvel at creation. To enjoy what we can take in with our senses. In fact, when our search only takes seconds, it does not give our brain the time it needs to marvel at the mystery of how a star is formed. Or to ponder the miracle of how our eyes take in light and make sense of the images all around us. Or to consider a creator so filled with love that He is willing to crash a few huge chunks of space debris together to create the perfect planet, in just the right space, at just the right time for us to be able to inhabit it.
Take a moment to soak in the image of having plenty of time to study the stars. Imagine getting to know the night sky so well that you notice when a new star appears. For the Wise Men, a new star meant a new significant soul began life here on earth. What might the stars be trying to tell you at this time?
The next gift you will give yourself is the gift of time to gaze up at the night sky while giving yourself permission to “not know.” Try this. Google any questions you have about stars, light and your eyes. Notice how quickly you get answers. Then spend some time outdoors after dark and search the sky for answers. If you live in an area that allows you to see many stars at night, try counting them. Can you find the North Star? How about the Big Dipper? Which method of searching allows you the time to marvel at the brilliance of the stars at night? Or to ponder the miracle of eyesight? Which search method brings you more peace? No matter what you’ve been struggling with in this season of life, allow yourself to trust the creator of those stars and your eyes to be in the details. Maybe you need to do a little more research before deciding on an answer. Maybe you need to be still long enough to allow your own inner wisdom a chance to speak up. Maybe you need to surrender to the crashes and the explosions so something new can be created. Ugh! I hate the crashes and explosions of life! Still, I’ve seen the beauty and majesty that can come from them. I’ve learned over time to trust the creator’s love even in the midst of them.
If you live in the city and the glow from city lights prevents you from seeing stars at night (or it’s just plain too cold to go outdoors), try blowing bubbles. You can even simply use dish soap in your kitchen sink and blow through a straw into the water. When my grandchildren were small, they were entertained for hours blowing bubbles this way. Watch the bubbles stack up on top of each other. Notice the rainbow of colors that shine through the bubbles when the light hits them just right. Notice that the soap and water make air visible. You are looking at a bubble of air! What answers are made visible in the soap bubbles?
If sight is not a gift you hold, you can ponder just the same with any of your senses. Listen to music and ponder the miracle of hearing sound waves. Even the sound of a loved one’s voice is a miracle. It does not matter which of your senses you are using. What matters is slowing down and allowing yourself to accept “not knowing.”
Tonight, remember that for the most part, the stars visible in the night sky tonight are the same stars that the Wise Men would have studied more than 2000 years ago. No one knows for sure what the special star was they followed from their home country to Bethlehem. It might have been a comet passing by the earth at just the right time. We don’t know the answer. What we do know is the night sky is so consistent that it makes a reliable navigation tool. The stars visible tonight were also visible the night Jesus was born. Since the Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor Him, it might sound like Jesus’ entrance into this world was grand and royal. It was not. Remember, the Wise Men were looking for a king. That probably explains why they stopped at the palace of King Herod first. They assumed they were looking for royalty. Instead, Jesus was born to a carpenter and his fiancé. They found Baby Jesus in a small village named Bethlehem, in the house, with his mother.
The same stars that were there the night Jesus was born were also there the night you were born. Some of us were born in healthier circumstances than others. I don’t understand why this is. I do “not know” why. All I do know is the same Creator that enjoys cosmic collisions and magnificent explosions also gently knit together the tiniest details of our eyes and ears. The Creator that led Wise Men from the east with a star is patiently waiting to shine His love on you. My prayer for you and your prayer partner is that you are each ready to receive that love.
Enjoy the gift of stargazing and “Not Knowing.” “See you” next time.