|Day stepping into night.|
I’ve always loved the night: it leaves so much to the imagination. It’s like a blank canvas, or a dot-to-dot where we can draw our own patterns. The stars, in a sense, can tell us something about ourselves and where we are heading – by the patterns of hopes and dreams we weave into the night sky, our minds free from the colourful distractions of busy days.
As a boy I used to disappear over the fields with my dog for hours, feeling the drumbeat of my feet on the earth and bathing in the glow of the moon beneath god-like stars. The senses are keener at night, the earthy smells richer. During the day, we can see only to the limits of the earth’s atmosphere; on a clear night, it feels like we can see into eternity – gazing back in time at stars whose light has taken so long to reach us that they may no longer even exist.
I remember fondly when my father first showed me the patterns others had made in the night sky: the Great Bear, Cassiopeia and Orion (the easy ones for a first-timer). Even now, so many years later, I stand in awe on clear nights gazing up at the constellations sparkling bright like diamonds on black, infinite felt.
Early one December, I was so excited about the lunar eclipse that I woke my son up (he was then seven) to watch it too. All around us a thousand moons twinkled in the dewdrops. Above us a cosmic dance was taking place – and we were both witnesses and participants (because it is impossible to be the one without the other).
It was a magical moment, and seeing the moon reflected in dew reminded me of poet William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:
To see a World in a grain of sand,
To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.
Many a time I’ve returned home late from work, bubbling with stress, paused for a moment and felt the tension slide away as I gaze up at the quiet immensity of space. Often the only sounds are the bark of a fox or hoot of an owl piercing the fog of a mind lost in its own cares, and the gentle “shhh” of the wind in the trees – Mother Earth calming her distraught child. It’s enough to bring me back to my senses, and helps to put everything into perspective.
We are so small and our lives are so short, a breath in time. When everything is getting on top of me, I ask myself: In 100 years, will it really matter? How about in a thousand? A million? The universe will, probably, carry on much as it is and, in a sense so shall we – after all, we are nothing more and nothing less than stardust, a collection of atoms that dance together for a moment before going their separate ways again, creating and re-creating into infinity.
In a sense, we are miniature universes of molecules, and somewhere between the atoms, between the thoughts which like stars endlessly blink in and out of the swirling galaxies of our minds, is the quiet immensity of space. Touching that space, breathing that moment, I have discovered, is liberating – and, then, far from being tiny and short-lived, it feels like we are boundless and eternal, that none of us is insignificant. A religious person might call it God or Goddess, Heaven or Nirvana. I prefer not to name it: doing so seems to cast a shadow of preconceptions over something that can only be experienced, however fleetingly.
Gazing up at the stars at night, I can’t help thinking: what a huge privilege it is to be born human and therefore capable of appreciating life’s wonders. This is religion.