“Streetlights hide the glimmer of lesser stars”
by Bryce J. Christensen
Streetlights hide the glimmer of lesser stars.
My weak telescope wobbles on its stand.
Am I looking at Jupiter or Mars?
I’m no scientist – I don’t understand
how annotated charts explain it all.
Scant clue for me in the old, old stories
(textbook fables faded to bare recall),
Pegasus, Perseus, the Pleiades…
Can unschooled astronomy stir a spark
of soul-fire quenched by suburban routine?
Furtive escapist, I peer through the dark;
above a mortgaged world,
God’s lamps still shine.
(A YouTube video follows the text if you prefer a visual/audio experience)
Inside or out
we don’t really care,
we imagine we would like
to be touched by the Holy,
or at least feel
some kind of solid presence
in the the grasp
of our needing-wanting-pleading-to-know
But when we look
outside for God — beyond ourselves —
streetlights hide the glimmer
of those cosmic stars,
and though we know
that above our mortgaged world
God’s lamps still shine,
there is too much neon
and laser light between us to see.
when we cast our search within ourselves
the darkness is daunting —
for the one in whom
we live and move and have our being.
But whoever or whatever
the voice of the Holy is,
it has to compete
with an awful lot of screaming mimies
Now I hate to start out so
existential and gooey
but we’re talking about God here
existential and gooey
is what we are left with.
Blame Paul and John,
not the preacher.
But it is worth our stepping back
once in awhile
from the concrete and ethical,
and challenging ourselves
to point at the thing
that draws us here
in the first place —
a seemingly capricious
We normally talk about
the voice of God
in an historical moment
through historical figures,
but what about us
and what about now?
Think about this inside/outside
reach for God.
In Paul’s world
the Greco-Roman religions
were all about the outside God.
where Paul found the altar
to an unknown god,
religion hosted gods
who were up there
and out there
making mischief and war,
forming allegiances with mortals,
and answering prayers from on high.
Paul is stealthy.
He moves in under the radar
of the dominant religion,
sneaks up to an altar
with no name on it,
and claims it for his god.
In contrast to the up there
and out there gods,
Paul’s god is both — both
in a really clever and poignant way.
In God, Paul says,
”we live and move and have our being” —
which itself was a line of poetry
from a Greek poet.
But think about that a minute,
and better yet, if you can,
and have our being.”
What I visualize
is a 12-week embryo
floating in fluid-filled membranes.
that has not fully developed
and looks like a cross between
E.T. and a Gummy Bear —
a thumb-sized creature
and has it’s being
within a jellyfish-like veil
surrounded by liquids
and harbored in the darkness
of the human body.
Spiritually, each one of us
remains an embryo unto God.
We live and move and have our being
within the presence of God.
But we often confuse the darkness
in which we live
with our being hidden from God.
Yet all the time we are within God!
It is an inside-outside relationship
all the time.
We are the embryo;
increasing in strength and ability
until one day,
we will be born into light.
That’s the idea, anyway.
Presently we are in the dark
but the darkness is life,
and life is in God.
When we were kids,
my older sisters and I
had a game we played in the dark.
On the second floor of our house
there was a rectangular hallway
that all the bedrooms and bathrooms
We would shut all the doors,
roll up towels and place them against
the bottoms of the doors
to seal out even the smallest sliver of light.
Whoever was “It”
was then blind-folded
and twirled around until dizzy.
”It’s” task was to catch each person,
and place them in the center of the hall
where they had to stay until the end.
We played this game
for what seemed like hours at a time.
Running around and screaming
on the soft carpeted floor,
giggling and bumping into each other,
and taunting the kid who was “It.”
It was especially fun
to get “It” to run smack into the wall.
When Mom wasn’t home
we would add pillows to the game.
I can still remember
that sensation of swinging mightily into the darkness
and missing the target,
so that the force of my own swing
brought me down hard onto the floor.
We have all experienced bumping around
in the dark.
When a circuit is tripped
and the flashlight doesn’t work
and you feel your way to the basement.
In a power-outage
searching around for a flashlight
or a match to light a candle,
bumping familiar shapes in the absence of light —
that kind of darkness.
and have our being — groping
in the darkness
for the one in whom
we actually live,
and yet who we also say
actually lives within us.
What I am trying to evoke
is this tension we live in,
between wanting to pierce the veil
and know the God who is beyond us,
while also wanting to reach in and touch
the presence of God inside us.
It is the classic tension
of imminent verses transcendent.
But it is not an either/or game
even though our religious traditions
often emphasize one at the expense of the other
and polarize them.
We tend to think of Buddhism and Hinduism
as having cornered the market
on the God within,
but those traditions have their own schizophrenia
that divides along this tension.
Likewise, Christianity gets lampooned
as one or the other:
the high liturgical traditions
with bowing and scrapping
before the great and angry OZ
hidden behind the altar, or
Pentecostalism hopping and dancing
and pulsating in the aisle
with a jumping-bean God
moving people around like magnets move pins.
Neither Catholicism or Pentecostalism
is one or the other,
both have their outside and inside game.
As in all things, the object is balance,
and the point is,
we are always groping in the dark
one way or another.
So let me finish
with the concrete,
the how we can marry
the inside-outside elements
of this dance with the Holy.
It isn’t an exhaustive list
but I recommend
a four-part cocktail.
A prayer or mantra.
We need a place we can go —
from the details of our
The Gospel of Mark
has Jesus always looking
for a quiet place to be alone.
Often he runs away from his friends
and they have to go looking for him.
We need that kind of place.
It should be accessible
and reasonably comfortable
it will become weighted
with a history of our small encounters
with the holy.
we need a prayer.
But don’t get me wrong —
I’m not talking about a rosary here,
although if that is your thing, fine.
Most of my life I have been
as in Fiddler on the Roof
chatting incessantly with God
as if from my mouth to God’s ears.
Even though I know
it doesn’t work that way
and I am half-crazy,
that is my form
of an extrovert’s prayer
unless I am meditating with a mantra.
But the point is,
it doesn’t matter what we do
or how we do it,
just that we do it — sometimes.
Relationships require participation
and so we need to risk
giving part of ourselves to it.
If we don’t
then there is no relationship.
we need a lens.
Obviously we have multi-focal lenses —
biology, geology, history, economics are all lenses.
But do we have a lens
that gives all the other ones
One that organizes
and is an interpretive lens
for the world we see
through our other lenses?
We say the wisdom of Jesus is good for that —
Buddha, Mohammed, and Lao-Tzu
offer those kinds of lenses too.
But to play this outside-inside game with God
we need a primary lens that uses
all the other ones and so allows us to see
the sacred hiding in plain sight.
And finally, we need a community.
Spirituality is not a solo endeavor
or a heroic journey for the individual.
It is a group enterprise
in which we are mutually dependent
upon one another —
in the same way an ecosystem
is built upon an exquisite inter-dependence
of each constituent part.
Engagement in spirituality
is a group practice
in which we influence and learn from one another,
even as we have a place, a prayer, and a lens
all our own.
Whether we like it or not,
spirituality is a dance
with these two dimensions of God —
the inside and the outside —
and though we will likely lean
toward a dominant side
in the same way
most of us are not ambidextrous,
we really do need to access both.
And while there is a multiplicity of ways
to access the outside-inside dimensions
of the holy,
and a community
And for now, that’s all I got.