February 8, 2012

The Perfect Brilliance of the Stars

 When free of clouds, the night sky over Newfoundland is spectacular, and as a child I marveled at the vast heavens above. My childhood fascination with stars was further enhanced when I earned my Stars Honor in Pathfinders. There I learned that the North Star is about one degree from the north celestial pole, that it is at the end of the “handle” of the Little Dipper (the constellation Ursa Minor), and is easily found by following the line of the “pointer” stars on the “lip” of the Big Dipper (the constellation Ursa Major). Growing up on an island also made me conscious of the importance of stars for navigation on the water.
Long before Global Positioning Systems (GPS), mariners were ingenious, accurate, and keenly aware of their need to use the stars for navigation, because it meant life or death. I grew up hearing many stories of the ships that did not make it to safe harbors. In fact, my great-grandfather is entombed in his vessel somewhere off the Newfoundland coast. Not too far from where his ship went down, another more famous maritime disaster occurred on April 15, 1912, as passengers of the Titanic were also mesmerized by the amazing night sky and the stars that guided many a sailor home.
2012 1504 page31It was Polaris (also known as the North Star) that guided mariners. The dark skies of the ocean allowed the perfect brilliance of the stars to help mariners navigate their way. Of course, sea navigation was more complicated than simply finding the North Star, but that star was the touchstone—the reference point upon which the other calculations depended.
I now live away from my island home and its dark skies. In Ontario, Canada, we are plagued by light pollution that makes it harder to see the stars, but I am blessed to live far enough in the country to still look up and marvel with boyhood wonder at the heavens above. But I no longer marvel alone.
Some years ago my daughter Carmelle, and I were stargazing on a Friday evening. As a family we would often go to the top hill on our property and watch the sunset as the Sabbath arrived. One Sabbath night Carmelle said, “Daddy, what’s that?” She pointed to the constellation Cassiopeia. There was a sight I had not noticed before—the beautiful starry host the Great Andromeda Nebula (also known as M31). “Wow!” she said. I had to agree. Together we shared a time of discovery. But that discovery was just a small component of the wonders of the night sky.
As the North Star guided many ships into safe harbors through the centuries, the evening stars continue to call us to consider the wonders of our great Creator God. After all, “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1, NKJV).*
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Barry W. Bussey lives in Ontario, Canada, and is the Vice President of Legal Affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. This article was published February 9, 2012.