Thursday, January 23, 2014

Finding My Bearings

When I look up into the clear winter sky, I delight to see the bewildering array of twinkling lights. But no matter how many stars fill the sky, I always find comfort and orientation once I see the Big Dipper and Orion. They are my compass points.

When I was a Boy Scout, every First Class Scout had to be able to point out the North Star and 5 constellations. The idea was that it was good for a Scout to be familiar with the night sky as an aid to navigation and also simply to be knowledgeable of the natural world. To pass that requirement, I remember learning to point out the Big and Little Dippers (each a part of the Great and Little Bears, respectively), Cassiopeia, Leo, the Pleiades (Seven Sisters), Orion, and Taurus. Once I had learned this skill, I found myself any time I was outside looking skyward into the night sky for these familiar friends.

And I am comforted that even now, 40 years later, the Big Dipper and the others are still right where they belong. The sight of the Big Dipper always helps me feel secure as it points the way north. Once the Dipper is found, locating Polaris, the North Star, is a simple matter. Once on a road-trip through West Virginia our family even used the Big Dipper to help us navigate when we were confused on the country roads. In any season, no matter how turned around I get, a mere glimpse of the Big Dipper settles the matter and I am oriented again.

The Hunter, Orion, is a seasonal visitor, but he is just as dependable and often easier to see above the trees. In winter Orion strides boldly across the evening sky walking from east to west across the southern sky each night. It makes me feel somehow more stable remembering these nighttime friends are always there, and they're there whether we notice or not. The Hunter and the Great Bear keep vigil over us, standing guard and pointing the way.

I have friends who will think I'm remiss if I don't say that God is the same way, always there, guarding, and pointing the way. But I don't think it's necessary—at least not if your winters have been marked with many wordless moments looking into the cold starry night. The Great Mystery is always there, whether we notice or not.

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