Spirituality for Today – November 2013 – Volume 18, Issue 4

Behold a Star

Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

A photo of the comet ISON

Occurring between the feasts of Christ the King and the First Sunday of Advent, the appearance of Comet ISON is both timely and appropriate. Its story has a familiar ring to it. The comet was able to be trumpeted as a grand spectacular well before the world would get an eyeful. Because Comet ISON will travel only 680,000 miles from the surface of the sun, much more material from the comet's surface is expected to sublimate. Astronomers reported that the comet would rank among the brightest ever seen.

Other Great Comets in history:

The comet was visible during the day and was as bright as Venus.

Described as a long white cloud, the comet's tail was 200 million miles long.

Described as a blazing star, this may have been the brightest ever seen – a Super Comet.

Mistakenly thought to be Haley's Comet, which would appear 3 months later, by the public, the comet was seen as a huge object in the evening sky.

The comet had a bad orbit for observation from most places on earth.

Much brighter than a Full Moon, this comet was the brightest of the 20st Century.

This comet was seen at its brightest at sunset and was quite spectacular.

[Source: SPACE.com, journalist Joe Rao]

Notably, the comet would bring not only the astronomers of the world together, but also the entire global population – all one needs to do is look at the sky. The only fear is that it may break apart as it approaches the monumental forces of the sun and thus deprive earthlings of a comet as bright as the moon.

Searching the skies is one of the oldest activities of humankind. The night sky wears a rich mantle of mystery and evokes deeper and even reverential thoughts within the mind of the beholder. It is no wonder that, in worship, the faithful tend to look up. In prayer as well as in astronomical pursuits, a person wants to sense a communication with the heavens and, perhaps, a unity with all existence. There is something about being absorbed in the perplexity and inscrutability of the ethereal ocean around us and yet feeling comfortable within its embrace. This inner longing for a human-like, loving communion with the grand mystique of the universe speaks of the desire for God's grace and presence.

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

When I heard the learn'd the astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were arranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman

We are a people consumed with the urgency to explore, understand, explain, dissect, and decipher reality. In the process, we miss the reason and the value of these realities; we close ourselves to the divine messages within creation. We are like the man who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Yes, the comet is coming and we shall mark its path, its response to the sun's effects on it, and intently study its material make-up, but will we have the wisdom to stand in silent meditation of God's gifts.

Paying heed to the season, remembrances of another heavenly object drawing the world to a heavenly being welcomes us to Advent and Christmas. Please excuse me for being pre-mature somewhat, but all this excited talk about looking upward in wonder and the unification of peoples has put me in the mood. The Star of Bethlehem represented a beacon to the world inviting the nations to come and see the amazing event that has occurred. Comet ISON might have its moment of fame and command the attention of scientists for some time, but for two millennia the Nativity has commanded the hearts and minds of countless millions to a hope and a destiny that neither nature nor science can give.