|by Lyle Penner
A Star Without a Name
When a baby is taken from the wet nurse,
it easily forgets her
and starts eating solid food.
Seeds feed awhile on ground,
then lift up into the sun.
So you should taste the filtered light
and work your way toward wisdom
with no personal covering.
That's how you came here, like a star
without a name. Move across the night sky
with those anonymous lights.
- Rumi, in the late 13th century
IT WAS SHORTLY after a Watershed Wednesday night study meeting that I stepped outside alone, clutching my winter parka around me. The air was distinctly crisp, this being near the middle of another infamous January cold spell in Winnipeg. The rest of our small community was still inside Cal and Linda’s warm Toronto Street home chatting after an enjoyable yet intense discussion on biblical wisdom. Isn’t it satisfying to receive a transcendent “word” to live by, especially when in dire need?
In the middle of the quiet street, where the overreaching tree branches on either side parted, I instinctively looked up hoping to catch a glimpse of Jupiter, Mars or perhaps the harder to spot Saturn. The sky seemed unusually dark and clear, perhaps due to the lack of even a hint of wind. The planets seemed to be hiding. However, a small hazy patch in the constellation Orion “the hunter”, just below the famous belt of three stars, caught my eye instead. Wait, I’d never seen this before! What stellar phenomenon was silently calling out its presence to me?
At home a short while later, I excitedly checked an astronomical site on the Net that gave me at least the scientific answer. I had seen the star-birthing Orion or Great Nebula, over 1500 light years distant! It felt like a small yet wonderful surprise to catch a glimpse of this heavenly mystery which apparently wasn’t even discovered until the early 17th century. (With a telescope it is said to appear as a swirling greenish mass laced with filaments and obscuring dust clouds.) But could this brief experience, or others like it, mean anything at all for my spiritual journey out of the land of egocentrism? What invisible connection, I wondered, is there between stargazing and integrating the spiritual tradition of wisdom?
To put the questions in perspective, our study course took a fascinating detour into evolutionary cosmology last summer. We viewed educational videos after which we discussed some of the elements of the evolutionary process including how cosmology – the story of how things came to be – has historically progressed from unscientific yet meaningful mythologies of ancient times to the dramatic Big Bang view of the present. What stood out was how spirituality and the physical sciences are now intersecting in fascinating ways. It’s as if we’re starting to learn a new dance, a new cosmic story that incorporates the best of modern science with the best of the perennial spiritual, including my native Christian, tradition that previously were warring with each other (if they were on speaking terms at all!).