Tag Archive | Stardust

Stars, Language, Worldviews


One of my pet peeves is language that says the Sun moves around Earth. Words carry meaning, and if we reinforce long-disproven concepts, we stay stuck in centuries past — scientifically, socially, and religiously.

What follows will offer some alternatives — and, I hope, some food for thought and reflection. Before reading, think for a minute about how you would describe what is pictured here:

A Summer Sunrise over on the Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska,Oklahoma<br />

Here’s how Marilynne Robinson has her protagonist describe it in her Pulitzer-prize-winning novel Gilead:

“This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas. This morning Kansas rolled out of its sleep into a sunlight grandly announced, proclaimed throughout heaven — one more of the very finite number of days that this old prairie has been called Kansas, or Iowa. But it has all been one day, that first day. Light is constant, we just turn over in it. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.”

Wow! Your reaction to that?

Here’s what I wrote years ago, in “Matins,” (Matins):
fql1od“ …
Slowly, slowly (or so it seems) Earth rotates,
revealing a brilliant, blinding star
so distant that its million multiples
of Earth’s size seem
a solitary shining footlight on the horizon.
…. ”

While we’re remembering that our sun-star neither rises nor sets, try these last ten lines of Katy Didden’s poem ”Before Edison Invented Lights” (in The Glacier’s Wake) [Painting by Mary Southward, CSJ]:
“ …
When you sleep with your face to the sky
untitledthe stars are not so much above
as around you. Stare long enough
and you begin to feel
you could lift your body off the earth
and hover in the black night
on the web of your awe
at a billion suns
toward which
everything you’re made of yearns.”

Wow, again! And why does everything we’re made of yearn for the suns? Curt Stager answers in Your Atomic Self, from the chapter “Fires of Life”:

“To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields. Throughout history, people have spoken of the earth as our mother and the sun as our father … In an atomic sense, however, it would be more accurate to think of the earth and the sun as our siblings, because they both formed from the same star debris as the elements of life within us. Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago.”

Neil de Grasse Tyson echoes that reality: “The spectacular truth encoded in your DNA is that the very atoms of your body were initially forged in long-dead stars. This is why, when we look at the sky with wonder and longing, we feel some ineffable tugging at our innards. We are star stuff.”

Language and Worldviews

As for changing language, Stager writes “Simply replacing the word “sun” with “star” can change your sense of what this sylvan scene actually is. Lie flat on your back on the warm wood of a dock, and it may further dispel the normal illusion that the great fireball is “up there in the sky” instead of “right over there beside us in space.” Something about being horizontal and seeing the sun-star before you rather than above your head makes it easier to sense the absence of supporting pedestals or cables and therefore to realize that the brilliant, life-sustaining heart of our solar system floats in emptiness as it directs the trembling of your atoms from millions of miles away.”

It’s easy — though sloppy — to perpetuate a faulty philosophy by using words that belong to an obsolete flat-earth worldview. It can be disorienting to realize that we are one planet orbiting one of the billions of suns in our galaxy, and that our galaxy is one among billions. It almost hurts to get one’s head around the truth of where we are! But, to quote Stager again:

“The task that we face now is … to more closely attune our worldviews to the fascinating reality that Earth-orbiting telescopes, atom-probing microscopes, and other complex inventions have only recently uncovered for us. … How amazing to exist at all and how important it is, as our numbers and know-how increase, that we and our descendants develop such awareness as best we can.”

Language, Worldviews, and Believers

Is it important for believers? Ask St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote: “A mistake about creation will lead to a mistake about God.” Ask Fr. Sean McDonagh: “We must continually learn from science, evolve our theology, and humbly situate ourselves in the wider Creation story.”

What have you learned from science about our place and our meaning in the cosmos — including our role in caring for our precious common home? Replies welcome!

Note: Christians who wish to ponder Light this Advent, alone or with others, might consider using Advent 2016: In Praise of Light: advent-2016.

Christmas Star(s)

Star Wars, the ever-popular film series, repeats this truth: ”Every saga has a beginning.”

4557_3596c80a46918e6dde2f3c37290cba47We usually think of Jesus’ beginning as reaching back to David, perhaps back even earlier in human history. That’s all true, but his roots and his story, like ours, go back immensely farther. Since Scripture tells us that he was like us in all things but sin, we share the beginning.

No one knew it when Sacred Scripture was being written, but we now know that homo sapiens, though dating farther back than we’d care to count (c. 200,000 years), is but a blip in Earth’s story. Earth formed roughly 4 1/2-billion-years, though it is impossible to date precisely. During those billions of years, Earth developed the complexity and consciousness and dexterity required for the human species to evolve. Believers rejoice that Divine Mystery was living and acting within it the entire time. In the image here, humans are represented by the tiny red dot after the green tip — and the line would have begun at the shoulder! Wonder-full!

But wait! There’s more — as the ad says.

Cosmos-PictureEarth itself formed after more than 9 billion years of cosmic transformations that began with  what most scientists believe was the first Flaring Forth, however that happened. Stars formed, created new elements, and some ultimately died and exploded, spewing elements into the universe. Our Milky Way resulted from these explosions. After much time, Earth formed, followed by atmosphere, oceans, and continents. Way, way later came humans, music, dancing — Jesus, and each of us. Everything we now know started at the very beginning — a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews assured us in The Sound of Music.*

Stars in the nativity pictures can remind us that that’s where it all began — for the Holy Family and for each of us. Our lineage is indeed ancient! And the light within continues. Here’s how Thomas Merton described it (with no change to his non-inclusive language) :

“I have the immense joy of being a man, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

How might remembering our common origin, the light within, and our interconnectedness with all that exists influence our feelings about, and responses to, some of Earth’s current and pressing “hopes and fears”? Do we appreciate that everything we know came from stardust and “shines like the sun”? Have we grown beyond judging in dualities and stereotypes (e.g., us/them; good/bad; friend/enemy) because we realize our interconnections? Thomas Berry would ask: Do we perceive a collection of objects or a communion of subjects?

While we delight in reflecting on the newborn Babe — and on the Holy Family — during this Christmas season (and throughout the year), let’s also be awed by the fact that we, too, come from stardust. Everyone’s saga begins with the stars.


* Hope you have time to watch this under-5 min. video: Life’s Beginnings Found in Stardust – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rbSYwJJTTU.





Stardust Wednesday Ritual

We Are Stardust

Readers of this blog will be well aware that they are stardust. They might even

images-2remember when, where, and from whom they first learned that fact — or truly realized it. For many of us, the news was revolutionary. Talk about a paradigm shift!

As far as I can discover, few suspected this fact prior to 1929, when Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley remarked that “humans are made of the same stuff as the stars.” Three decades later, scientists showed that the atoms of which we are made are not only the same as those in stars; the atoms that comprise our “stuff” were actually created inside stars! No wonder gazing at stars can have such a profound effect on us! No wonder we sometimes really feel that we are one with all creation!

Also awesome is the realization that we become star stuff by way of Earth. When Christians are asked on Ash Wednesday to remember that they are dust, they can remember the Genesis story of how God took Earth’s clay/ humus to form the first humans. They can also remember that human evolution dates back not just to the very beginnings of our Earth, but all the way back to stars!

Ash Wednesday

images-1 Traditionally, on Ash Wednesday Christians flock to Church to begin Lent by receiving a sign of the cross on their foreheads. Originally called “Day of Ashes,” this custom had begun by the 8th century. Many Scripture references, primarily in the Hebrew Scripture, tell of repentant people putting on “ashes and sackcloth.” Ashes were originally sprinkled on the head rather than marked on the forehead. The ashes are a reminder of our sinfulness and mortality; the sign of the cross reminds us of Jesus’ forgiveness of sinners.

The ashes come from the burned palms used the year before on Palm Sunday. People are usually happy to get a good black smear to prove that they appreciate the symbolism of this sacramental — even if we didn’t exactly come from ashes.

Stardust Wednesday Ritual 

The following ritual is not intended as competition for the usual Ash Wednesday practice. It is suggested as supplemental to the traditional ashes ceremony, or as an alternative for anyone who would not otherwise participate in anything. A two-sided copy of just the ritual is available from terrishcj@aol.com.

Organizer(s) and/or those participating: Adapt the following ritual in any way that will make it more useful. (Send suggestions to terrishcj@aol.com.) Decide how much to use, music, and readings. You might want to be creative with sparklers or glitter. If wanted, plan refreshments.images-6

Begin together: May the Divine Power living and acting within us deepen our wonder and appreciation of the fact that we are made of stardust!

Music: Sing or say the lyrics for “Born of a Star” from We Are the Land We Sing, Carolyn McDade: http://www.catholicmusic.us/carolyn-mcdade-cds.aspx

Born of a Star

Return to the darkness, return
this longest night of wonder Return
Return to the dream, return
this holy night to ponder
Deep in the night, listen
Turn to the light
waken, waken
Deep in the night turn to the light Waken to Sun’s ancient summons ~

we who are born of a star who then are we?
we who are loved by a star who then love we?

We who are born of a star who then are we?

Reading(s): (Select one or more)

• from Radical Amazement, Judy Cannato: The massive star that was mother to our Sun met with fiery death, her form completely annihilated be the explosive force of the blast. And yet she exists in each of us, in the cells of our bodies that are composed of her dust. Consciously or not, we carry her within us as surely as we carry the DNA of our biological parents [and ancestors].

• from The Cosmic Dance, Joyce Rupp: Our planet Earth was once a dancing star, evolving over four and a half billion years ago from the many elements of a colliding supernova. I have loved knowing that we are “made of stardust” as Brian Swimme and other poetic cosmologists tell us. I like knowing that the composition of my body has the elements of a star that was once brilliantly aglow in the universe and is now dancing in me. There’s a magical sense of connection that comes from this knowledge . . . .

• from Once Upon a Universe, Pat Bergen, CSJ/Ministry of the Arts: When our Milky Way was 5 billion years old, a [later] generation star was coming to the end of her life. This grand old star collapsed in on herself and then exploded in a blast as fierce and brilliant as a million stars. It was our grandmother supernova! Her death gave birth to hundreds of new, more complex elements — carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, magnesium . . .  “stardust” flung far out into space. Gravity again went to work and drew the dust back into a hot, dense center. And voila! Our glorious Sun star ignited! The rest of the stardust gathered into 8 fiery planets of molten rock and gases, dancing with their moons in orbits around the Sun. Thus were born [what became] our home planet Earth, our moon, our great generous Sun, . . . our whole solar system.

 Quiet Reflection

 Sharing: What connection(s) do you find between this story and the stories of Jesus that we ponder during Lent and Easter?

 Intentions: Reply is “We are grateful.”
– for the Spirit present within the creative process of creation and within each of us, We are grateful.
– for the generations of supernovas that exploded, resulting in stars with increasingly heavier elements, eventually leading to the supernova that resulted in our solar system and galaxy,
– for Sister Dirt, because of whom we can enjoy food, flowers, plants clean air, shade, and revelations of the divine,
– for farmers who till the soil, especially our local farmers who do it organically using fair trade practices,
– for the scientists, theologians, thinkers, writers, speakers and artists who have helped us realize our place in creation — [Pause to quietly remember one or two who have helped you. Name them if you wish],
– for those present and throughout the world committed to creating a flourishing Earth,

 Blessing: Join in 2’s or 3’s. Allow a few moments for people to think of a prayer for their partner(s). Then, in turn, each extends hands over (or on) the other’s head and says a blessing, wish, or thanksgiving. (E.g., John, may God’s loving Spirit deepen our awareness that all creation is one. Pat, thank you for bringing your starlight into my life. Al, I bless you and the star-stuff you invest in caring for creation.)