The starry night embraces reader with message of love

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 7, 2011

Last week’s column featured my favourite winter star cluster, the Pleiades, which nestles against the vastness of the universe like a diamond brooch against black velvet.

Of the beauty of this group of stars, also known as the Seven Sisters, the book of Job has God asking the awestruck suffering subject of this ancient wisdom writing: “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades?” (Job 38:31 KJV)

These “sweet influences” are not just about the Pleiades, however, but about the entire starry canopy, according to one of our Calgary coffee companions. And, says Klaus Ohlhoff, their influences are for love.

Before I get to Klaus’s letter, though, here’s a short reminder of some of the Moon’s dancing with the stars that will take place over the next few days, along with other reader responses.

In the early evening of Dec. 8, the Moon will pass very close to the Pleiades as it makes its monthly journey west to east across the sky.

Then just before sunrise on Dec. 10 and visible from Cochrane near the western horizon, there will be a total lunar eclipse, as the Moon passes through Earth’s shadow.

Beginning at 5:46 a.m. MST, early risers will see the Earth’s shadow begin creeping across the face of the Moon, till at 7:06 a.m. the eclipse reaches totality, leaving Earth’s nearest neighbour dimly bathed in an orange glow for the next 41 minutes before it emerges once more from the shadow and drops below the horizon.

Yes, as Morley reader Tina Fox said in her response, we hope the skies are clear for those two heavenly performances.

Speaking of reader responses, our globetrotting Cochrane coffee companion Phil Evans has some advice for those who are considering buying a pair of binoculars especially for stargazing.

He recommends 7×50 binoculars over more powerful ones. They have adequate magnification, he says, and allow a lot of light to reach the eyes without being so heavy that they’re hard to hold over long periods of viewing.

You don’t really need telescopes or binoculars to experience the majestic message of the universe, however, according to Ottawa reader Rosalind Weeks.

“I have no telescopic equipment,” she wrote, “but I often go outside on a clear night and gaze upwards, thinking of the psalm of David: ‘When I consider Thy heavens, the works which Thou hast made, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him?’ It gives me peace and perspective about what matters.”

“About what matters”? That brings me back to Klaus Ohlhoff’s response.

Klaus, a frequent visitor to Cochrane coffee shops, is the Lutheran chaplain at the University of Calgary.

He finds the incomprehensible size of the universe quite mind-boggling, he wrote, with over 80 billion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. “There are way more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Planet Earth!”

In view of this, he said, “it’s good to come home to the teaching of our various religious traditions – that ‘the whole shebang’ (the whole Big Bang) is all about love.”

What brought him to this awareness is an encounter he had with the stars while in seminary many years ago.

“I paid a visit to the Grand Canyon and learned while there that a person could hike down to the bottom of the mile-deep chasm,” he said. “So I grabbed a sleeping bag and water bottle from the car and did the six-hour hike down Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and rolled my sleeping bag out under the stars.

“There, sitting by the river, and very aware of the remains of a nearby kiva and a disappeared civilization that dated back a thousand years, I looked up at the billion stars above the cliffs, and opened up my little New Testament to I Corinthians 13, which ends with the familiar line, ‘There remain three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of them all is love.’

“But what caught my eye was the first phrase of Chapter 14, which really should be part of the previous chapter, for it reads, ‘Make love your aim.’

“‘Make love your aim!’ Now there's a life-philosophy worth pursuing, and maybe also a principle for building a cosmos, for that is where the universe has taken us – the capacity to give and receive love.

“It was as though the universe, through sacred Scripture, had shot an arrow into my heart with a message attached to it!” Klaus concluded. “And now I have a few decades (‘three score and ten, or maybe four score’) in which to take aim at that target in all my relations.”

Thanks, readers. Indeed, the sweet influences of the stars are great reasons to keep looking up.


© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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