“Stars, you are the heavens’ flock, tangling your pale wool across the night sky,
bits of oily fleece catching on barbs of darkness to swirl in black wind.”
-from “The Heaven’s Flock” by Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate
We look upwards for answers. When the sun sets, blushing the sky and then sneaking away around the back side of our world to shine elsewhere, we are left with our questions from the day and our despair of the night. “Could I have done that day better?”
That is why we look upwards– at the tiny, scattered bits of fire that are lodged in the black bowl of sky turned upside down over us. We seek answers in the pictures they form with each other. How is it that the same constellations appear each night in the form of ancient warriors and carnivorous animals when the light that we see is shining, burning fire billions of years old? Their light is such old news.
Oh stars, we know you hold the answers but you won’t be able to answer our questions until our bodies have turned back into dust, buried deep in the Earth. And when you finally get back to us, when you reassure us that everything will be OK, all our Earthly cares will be gone. Oh stars, are you merely here to inspire?
So we build a small blaze, as we sit here and and emulate the stars, as they dance and flicker and form paintings in the sky. Our little fire does the same, a carbon copy. Smoke swirls into the sky, each carbon atom returning to the atmosphere. As we sit and watch our fire, sometimes the greater meaning of the celestial tapestry is lost on us, obscured by a curtain of clouds pulled across by the backstage manager, hidden for another day. End Act 2.
We throw sawdust and small blocks of wood on our small fire, which soon glow orange in the same mystical way as the stars. We cannot avert our gaze, so intent is our search for the unknown. As the ribbons of flame curl themselves around each other, embracing and letting go, we recognize and bless the eternal dance of life and light. We are enraptured, inspired, proud of our own small star we have made in our backyard. Maybe we will ask it questions, hoping for a prompter answer than the fire in the sky can give.
We take Earthly things- twigs, blocks of wood, sawdust, pine needles, and turn them into the divine, suddenly erupting into eternal flame, then glowing coals. Can we do this to ourselves, mere Earthly beings searching out our divine essence? Can we recognize the sacred in ourselves? Can we answer our own questions with confidence? Is it enough just to trust our own fires which rage violently in our chests? Can we hope that they will soon be transformed into the calm, glowing coals of midnight? Can we trust ourselves?
I surely hope so. Because though we appear lost, stumbling around in the dark looking for a fire, for warmth, we really do carry fire in our own chests. And once we find it, there are always other companions around the blaze with which to howl at the moon. Each of our own tiny fires light up the night, warming us from the inside, our own small handful of coals.