The Loneliest Star

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Yesterday was the first day of autumn and I can feel the way the earth is moving. Our two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally for a spell—night and day stand side-by-side, neither one outreaching the other. We call it the equinox—from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Only it doesn’t feel equal to me. The morning is slow in coming and evening slips down over the horizon too quickly. The sun is stingy with her light and the days bleed moments before we can wrap them up.

There was a time when people were more in tune with the rhythms of nature, when the sky was their clock and calendar. We see this evidenced in ancient man-made structures such as the Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu in Peru. This unassuming stone structure has been shown to precisely date the equinoxes and other celestial events. The word intihuatana means “for tying the sun.” The shadow the stone casts tracks the journey of the sun across the sky throughout the year.

The night sky, too, announces autumn, with certain constellations moving into prominent view. But also, there rises in the southern sky what some call the “Loneliest Star.” This star, also known as the “Autumn Star,” or the “Lonely One” is thus called because it is the only bright star in that part of the sky this time of year. Its formal name is Fomalhaut, which comes from the Arabic Fum al Hut, meaning “mouth of the fish.” Fomalhaut, the Lonely One, is the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).

Last night, I went outside and stood facing south and searched the horizon for the brightest star. Fomalhaut did, indeed, look lonely in the broad expanse of night sky. As I stood under that twinkling canopy, I felt a kinship with the Lonely One. I have spoken before of the longing that autumn evokes. That sweet yearning pulled at my heartstrings urgently as I stood alone among the song of cicadas and crickets. Sometimes this feeling of emptiness can feel big enough to swallow me whole. The urge to fall into that well of darkness is strong at times.

In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul says, “The night is nearly over. The day is almost here. Live in the light.” He is telling us we have a choice to make. Spiritually speaking, in this tired world, it’s not yet day, and it’s not quite night: both are right here, within our grasp. Two ways of life. And even though we may have chosen the way of light, the darkness is still very present—clings to our skin like the damp air of night.

I think the ancient people, with their keen awareness of the rhythms of nature, understood the dueling forces of dark and light much better than we. I’m trying to notice the rhythms built into this good earth more. I feel the lightness of each leaf I see fall from my maples in the back yard. I study the way of the honeybee, knee deep in the goldenrod. I watch the birds and butterflies shed a new season as they flock southerly.

But I am earthbound—no winging out of this for me. Still, I make a choice. A choice to see this longing inside of me as something good, something made of light. A longing for life the way our good God intended it to be.

Autumn

on the bright wing
of morning
I touch the hem

of dawn;
soar through stardust
and dew as light

spreads like
spilled milk, slowly
blinding the eyes

of heaven, light
upon light,
trembling like

a bird preparing
for flight. my body
blooms until all

the sky and I are
one diaphanous
blue wing.

Playdates with God: Autumn Longing

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Jeff and I ran away to Lexington together this weekend. It was a quick overnight, one we traditionally make on black Friday to do some holiday shopping. But this year, we will have our nest full again over Thanksgiving week, so we made the break for Kentucky early.

My husband and I always have fun exploring new places, but it wasn’t our time in the city that sung God’s sweet song to me. Driving through the Kentucky farmland in the autumn, new music tickling my ear, the beauty of skeletal trees whispering austerity to my spirit … this is where God came to me this weekend. And I sat dumbstruck in the passenger seat.

I always turn to C.S. Lewis as my companion during this season. He captures the longing of autumn so articulately. In my book I talk about how he grasped onto the word sehnsucht—that German word with no real English equivalent encapsulating a longing for home, a homesickness for a place we’ve never been. Lewis famously adored autumn as a time of awakening, a season where joy and sorrow hold hands to reveal to us that we were made for something more.

In the fall I am always filled with a sense of expectation—the hope that something wonderful, something life-transforming is about to happen. I go to bed each day in disappointment, wondering what is this churning inside of me? I should be well familiar with this by now, I wrote a book about it, for Pete’s sake. But life makes no exceptions for slow learners and my memory is surprisingly short. I mistake this feeling as pointing me toward something tangible, but I learn over and over and over again it is the feeling itself that stirs my awareness of God inside of me.

Lewis says it like this, “All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”

This wanting, this longing, how sweetly it fills my spirit! This sense of expectation I carry with me reminds me that most of the time when wonderful things happen, they happen slowly. No sudden reveal, rather, a slow awakening like a flower opening to the morning sun.

on the bright wing
of morning
I touch the hem
of dawn;
soar through stardust
and dew as light
spreads like
spilled milk, slowly
blinding the eyes
of heaven, light
upon light,
trembling like
a bird preparing
for flight. my body
blooms until all
the sky and I are
one diaphanous
blue wing.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

 

Laura Boggess

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Touch the Sky

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The mornings are dark and trimmed with frost of late. On Tuesday I stood out back and watched my breath tendril up into the slow approaching dawn. The Hunter’s moon was on the wane, but still gave the appearance of being full and I could smell the light slowly undoing the night. The wind is beginning to loosen the leaves a little more each day and the hillsides lush with color are beginning to undress. Yesterday at work, I spoke with a patient’s family member who had driven up from Lewisburg to visit.

“How are the leaves down there?” I asked.

With a sad smile she said, “They are gone.” Then she spoke to her loved one about the blazing glory the Maples made in the back yard.

Grief pooled at the corners of his eyes as she gave to him her word pictures. This is what the deep ones mourn—not the loss of limb or weakness of body, but the theft of time. They grieve the sudden pulling of their lives out from under them; how they must abandon all that gives joy to tend to their physical needs for a season.

I try to return these moments to them, point out the beauty available right here, right now. The pulse of life still beats strongly under the roof of the hospital. The losses they have suffered seem to tender their heart and open its door wide to all the losses over the course of life. A rare few recognize the gift in their tears—this drawing near to the holy, to the things that matter most.

I learn from their bravery, how best to view the moments of my days. In autumn, the longing looms large, just as C.S. Lewis said. I cry when I see the birds flock across the sky, the sudden lift of their wings birthing anew within me the awareness of my feet of clay—I am earthbound.

In my reading this morning, Diane Ackerman tells me, “One of the first words we think humans spoke, recorded in Indo-European as pleu, meant: It flies! It is an ancient longing.”

I long for flight of many kinds but mostly, I want to touch the sky, to scoop her blue in my cupped hands and carry it home. Is there a way to carry the sky inside of me? In his poem “Two Stranger Birds in Our Feathers,” Mahmoud Darwish says, “ … spread over me an endless blue wing … “

This is what I want too—to be lost in the ecstasy of a love so great I lose all sense of self but become one with earth and sky and sun and star. Overshadowed by mystery.

This is Love. This is Faith. I let these longings lead me deeper into the heart of God.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

Playdates with God: Bread of Life

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My mother always told me I am an old soul.

“You were always so serious,” she says. “Even when you were a baby.”

When I was six months old her mother—my maternal grandmother—was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she had to wean me from her breast for the struggle of it—the hard work of balancing the care of a newborn and that of her dying mother.

So maybe it’s not so strange that my first memory is that of hunger. I was three years old, watching mother try to feed four children with flour and water and a loaf of homemade bread. It was all she had. I still remember the acrid smell of scorched flour that permeated the kitchen as she made a pasty gravy to bind pieces of bread to our stomachs, glue to hold down the hunger pangs.

The hunger remained like a soft ache when the bread was gone. All these years later, after two children of my own and a life well lived into, the hunger still remains. It seems I carry a yearning with me always.  The hunger keeps me serious, keeps me tethered to the old soul inside of me.

But this hunger that I was founded upon? When it stirs deep within me? It also keeps me tethered to Jesus. This season of new life—living into Easter—it reminds me that he is the Bread of Life.

We go to Jesus to be fed. To the Bread of Life, to the Christ; isn’t this where I must let my yearning lead me? Do I dare to embrace this hunger as invitation? And when I trust the Bread of Life to feed me, do I trust enough to let go of worry about that gaping hole inside of me? Do I trust enough to make room for joy?

Jesus tells us that unless we come to him like a little child we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. For me, that means letting go of the way I have always been, letting my old soul become unfettered and free. It means inviting play into my time with God. My grown-up play looks different than the play I engaged in as a child. Some days I invite God to come with me to an art museum, or a concert, a hike in a local state forest. Some days, we simply sit together and read. But I have resolved to make this a regular practice: once a week, I plan a playdate with God.

And the years are beginning to peel back as this old soul learns what it means to have the faith of a child.

My playdates with God? They have become a way to set the table and feed this hunger inside of me. This the only way that hunger can fill. When I let it awaken me to the moments of completeness in this aching, yearning world—to the joy of Christ breaking into this life again and again.

This is how hunger feeds. This is how hunger makes a very good beginning.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.We are trying a new linky widget, friends. I pray this one might eliminate unwanted links. Again, please forgive me for last week’s extra visitors.

Laura Boggess