by Kevin McGrane, Sr.
Last night about twilight I sat out on the north side of the house in a deck chair and waited for the first star of the night to appear.
There is much sky at our homestead Windy Hill, and the north side of the house is near the top of the ridge, so the beautiful valley view on the south side is not there to distract me from looking at the sky. On the north side, there is nothing but tall glade grass to the top of the hill, then sky.
It was a practice of patience and study for me, to do nothing except sit and watch the sky overhead. I wanted to consciously slow down and shut off the rest of the world for a while; I wanted to watch the magic of the sky. As I watched, it turned pastel shades of blue to gray to indigo, while clouds that looked like they had been painted by Thomas Hart Benton drifted beyond the tree line
The Japanese did something similar for centuries – they called it “moon gazing”, and it was a national pastime. Families or parties of friends would gather before moonrise and find a favorite spot where the moon could be seen unobstructed, then they watched it rise and sail overhead, or scud along the horizon to disappear later. It was a form of entertainment, of celebration and appreciation for the wonder and beauty of nature that is so close to the Japanese heart.
It was not easy for me to sit and try to think of nothing. My mind races, and sometimes gets stuck on an idea, turning it over and over again. I had to pause many times and remind myself what I was doing there, lying in the deck chair and looking up. I kept thinking of people I had encountered this week that had need of prayer and care, and they kept popping up like the faces on the tile of my cell phone directory…
…and Rumi the poet…I must start reading Rumi…I read a couple of quotes by him last week, and I am always impressed by him….
A bat fluttered overhead, reminding me why I was there. Bats in flight are a sign that it is nearly dark. I kept looking for the first star and, finally, there it was – a tiny glimmer of light that did not disappear when I looked at it directly. It seemed that it was alone for the longest time, until I turned around in my seat to look behind me and I spotted two stars much larger than the first. I looked back to the first tiny star, then at the two larger ones, as a flock of geese somewhere on one of the ponds in the valley greeted them with a chorus of honks.
As I stood up to see if I could spot the geese, a tiny gleam caught the corner of my eye and I squinted at the path that leads from our door to the lane. There was another, then another… Could it be?… It was unmistakable – the glow of fireflies, the first of the season! In a matter of a minute, as if by signal, the glade came alive with the tiny glow of fireflies, like sparks from a bonfire. They winked as they flew through the grass, appearing on long milkweed stems or among the Johnson grass. It was not the full swarm that we will see later on in the season, but their unexpected appearance was breath-taking never the less.
I have some friends who are not theists by a normal definition – they do not believe in God as I understand God – but they are so awestruck by the enormity and transcendent beauty of nature that they call it Nature and say, “It is enough.” As I wandered up the path, looking at the play of fireflies in the tall grass and the stars overhead, I could understand and appreciate their insight. Their insight did not threaten mine, and I am gratified that they have found something of the Immanent, or the Transcendent, in this life. In truth, their insight has informed mine and made it richer.
For my part, I can see why the Japanese loved to watch the diurnal cycles of nature, for I sense the immanence of God in creation, and realize what a holy place this planet is. The night sky was full of stars, and the glade was full of the stars of fireflies. I am convinced it is a work of art created by The Great Artist, and that is enough for me. To see it, to feel it, to know it, all we have to do is stop and look patiently.
The Rev Kevin McGrane is a vocational deacon in the diocese of Missouri, focusing on food and hunger ministries. He serves at St. John’s-Tower Grove parish and lives on a 10-acre homestead in the Ozarks with his wife Catherine. He blogs about life on his Ozark homestead, Windy Hill where this piece originally appeared.
image: from Original Art #25 by Fumiharo Kato