Thursday, March 06, 2008

Faith Works 2-8-08
Jeff Gill

Striding Across the Sky, Among the Stars

When the melted snow of daylight hours is freezing to a glaze below your feet, and a wind creaks the young oak in the front yard, it may not be a prayerful time to be outdoors.

A few nights back, I was caught looking up, not quite frozen, but feeling a still moment that brought a memory of warmth to the nighttime.

Directly overhead in the southern sky was Orion, the Hunter. One of the winter sky’s most recognizable constellations; three stars for a belt, a dangled scabbard of two more angled back, a jaunty red Betelgeuse as cap, arm outstretched towards the bull’s horns of Taurus, aiming for the heart made of the Pleiades, the seven star cluster hanging to the west.

I’ve looked at and pointed out this sight many times, on Scout campouts and collecting for my paper route and going from car to meeting and out again later to head home. When the winter evening is far gone, Orion is now chasing his prey past the height of the sky and down the far slope, Sirius chasing his master with all the enthusiasm of a dog on the hunt.

Those longer ago recollections of looking up and seeing this great figure striding across the sky, shrouded by my own breath misting up into the night, are now mingled with a very particular time of this ancient sight.

Fifteen years ago last week, I stood on the end of a dock at Kibbutz Nof Ginosaur, stretching into the Harp-shaped Sea, Har-Kinnereth, the Sea of Galilee. Thanks to the kindness of John and Marguerite Jones, may they rest in joyful peace, I was at the last night of ten spent in Israel, with a caravan of clergy that had landed at Tel Aviv and was now about to round the bend of Caesarea the next day and return to Lod airport where late the next night we would take flight back home.

We had been out on these waters the day before in a fisherman’s boat, reading just what you’d expect a bunch of Christians to read from the Gospels in a moment like that. The outlet into the Jordan River we had crossed, and rolled up through Tiberias to this guesthouse in an Israeli kibbutz.

Night fell, my roommate was watching (no, really) “Tango and Cash” dubbed into Hebrew on the TV, and I walked out to the dock, and to the end. It was warm, though the Israelis thought it a cool March night, so I was alone.

At the end of the dock, I saw Orion standing on his head in the still water, and then looked up to see this vast figure in his usual posture, walking out of myth into my awareness. Hebrew myth had him a giant, a fool, who challenged God and was bound to the heavens as punishment; Greek myth wavered between Orion and Adonis; the Babylonians saw a shepherd, while Norse mythology a goddess weaving, either Frigg or Freya.

Jesus saw this constellation, on a cool spring night. This I knew more certainly than I was sure of any other site or object that I had been shown the last ten days. Jesus looked up from his journey and saw just this, as had the boy I was knocking on doors years ago, as my loved ones were, a bit lower in the sky, right now – well, not right now, but would in about five or six hours, but these stars, this sky.

I looked at Orion, and saw Him. And I see Jesus still, not in the shape of the stars, but as one looking on them, perhaps now from the other side. To see the stars over Kinnereth’s lake, to see their reflection in those waters, is one of my more permanent memories.

Somehow Jerusalem became a bit more real in that moment, and the cross, and the empty tomb (or tombs, we saw a few). Not the items or objects, but the reality of the event, and the connection to my life, and all our lives.

How’s your Lent going? And don’t forget to spring your clocks forward, ready to rise . . .

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your star-strewn story at

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