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Starting Point

Stars burn with a living hope


Do you find stars beautiful? I do. I have written about them before. I suppose that for centuries, words have been crafted in their honor. And rightfully so.

In ages past, they were thought to be dots of light shining through tiny holes in the far and high canopy of night.

Stars were followed carefully, for it was believed that they knew the secrets of human origins.

Only recently has science let us know how incredibly far they are, and how countless they are, and, most interesting, how the very stuff of life originated with them. We come from very far away, it seems. Descendants of a long-ago fire, and a strange fire at that, infused with some kind of love and purpose.

Not long ago there was an article in The New York Times that suggested, maybe even argued, that we are alone in the universe. No other life, according to the author, exists. Chances are, we are all by our lonesome here.

I thought about that for a while and concluded that it doesn’t make a difference, really. I thought about people who sit alone in all-night diners and people who cry for company in a world of several billion people. Thinking about them, it seems to me that we have much to learn about befriending each other and making our planet a less lonely place.

We are lonely for God, and in that loneliness, life takes on a special kind of beauty, purpose, tenderness. We do some hurtful things out of loneliness. If we could better understand Who it is we are lonely for, I think we would be more at peace with our neighbors and ourselves.

There would be more company in all-night diners.

A few nights ago, I was walking here at the monastery on a path that winds down behind the main building. A moon was rising, and there were stars. And it was beautiful.

The thought occurred to me that the universe must be a noisy place. I could hear ripples of water within a stone’s throw of me. Geese were gliding across the lake. I heard the rustle of leaves as the wind caressed them. Air, I guess, transports sound. Or is it better to say that it is the medium of sound? No air, no sound. I looked up and thought of the incredible roars of the fires, countless fires, blazing in the heavens. Stars do not really twinkle. They are infernos. And the Big Bang, the great explosion that started it all. Where did that noise go? Where does the sound of the universe go?

Well, we would surely perish if we heard it all. A constant roar. Amazing, I mused, that we are shielded from all of that. We have silent nights and those walks on the beach when all you hear is the surf. We can hear the beat of a human heart. We listen for the cry of a baby. So much to hear and interpret, day by day, and hopefully with wisdom as we age.

Is there other life up there?

Yes, I would say. Like us? I think so, in some ways. A kind of life that is rather shy, seemingly distant, but generous. Very generous. A kind of life that keeps the roars of galactic fires and explosions visible but muted. And, a kind of life that has given us some crucial residuals, traces here and there, of where we do come from, of what we need to live and know and believe in. A Life that gives traces of what He is like.

For as I walk here and wonder about the silence that surrounds me, I think of the Beatitudes, and prayers and sacrificial loving. I ponder our search for truth and goodness, and how seemingly infinite is the heart’s need for goodness, for mercy, for tenderness. And, above all, I walk beneath the stars and know that I can, if I try, find ways to be good, be tender, be merciful.

The Life that is out there is here. In silence I know He speaks and has given us His way of speaking. The distant fires do travel, their roars humbled to words of kindness.

Stars burn with hope. A living hope. I can walk beneath them at night, and live by their Creator in my days.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, May 19, 2000