God asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things. You do not have to do these things unless you want to know God. They work on you not on him … you do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.
The quote stuck out to me because I had been thinking of it only a few minutes before as I stared at a blank page trying to figure out what to write. My thought process began with the news stories I saw today about the full moon being the biggest one we’ve seen in twenty years. That reminded me of Italo Calvino’s wonderfully odd collection of short stories called Cosmicomics. One story, “The Distance of the Moon,” recalled a time when the earth and moon came close enough every night for people to jump between them.
Orbit? Oh, elliptical, of course: for a while it would huddle against us and then it would take flight for a while. The tides, when the Moon swung closer, rose so high that nobody could hold them back. There were nights when the moon was very, very low and the tide was so high that the Moon missed a ducking in the sea by a hair;’s breadth; well, let’s say, a few yards anyway. Climb up to the Moon? Of course, we did. All you had to do was row out to it in a boat and, when you were underneath, prop a ladder up to it and scramble up.
The story goes on in even more fantastical fashion. Ever since I first read it, I’ve wanted to write a song called, “Ladder to the Moon.” Calvino and Dillard both understand the value and importance of going out into the dark to see the light. I imagine Dillard’s words have shown up in any number of Lenten meditations since she first wrote them. On this Big Moon Weekend, I’m happy to hear them again.
The reason, however, that her words came to mind in the first place was because I was thinking differently about the dark. There is the dark we allow to envelop us like fading house lights in a grand theater so we can better see the stars and ourselves. There is also the dark that descends like weighted rain, that painfully surprises us, that isolates and discourages. These first few days of Lent this year have held more of the latter than the former. I have friends who are hurting and grieving, who are out in the dark and the stars appear to have abandoned them. All I know to do is keep calling their names so they know, at least, they are not alone.
A designated season of preparation in the darkness is one of our underappreciated luxuries. Those who walked and lived with Jesus didn’t know it was Lent. There was no Ash Wednesday. But there was darkness. Incomprehensible, alienating, devastating darkness. The closer Jesus got to the cross, the darker things became. They didn’t look at stars. They slept and wept at Gethsemane. They ran away. They betrayed. They denied. They grieved.
The disciples didn’t know the tomb would be empty as they watched Jesus die and then buried him. They shared the same sense of failure and loneliness I hear and see in my friends. None of them is without faith, but they are without relationships they had counted on to last. They are sitting in the dark, but not star-gazing. Though I’ve had my seasons where the darkness was crushing, this year the darkness is a backdrop to the stars. I’m well aware that I cannot change their circumstances, nor can fix much of anything. I can sit in the dark with them, as others did with me. If I don’t go out into the darkness, I won’t see the stars.
Neither will I find my friends who need to be found.