Wednesday, May 08, 2013

"The obscurity of the night, reveals the brilliancy of the stars"

The other day I was bored and wished I had something to read when I realized I have an entire shelf of books in my room that I accumulated over the course of dozens of college classes but never actually read. Looking at them, I settled on Mexico: A History by Robert Ryal Miller. It'd been required reading for a Mesoamerican Anthropology class I took my sophomore year. I'd started it and found it interesting at the time, but when it became apparent that my professor had no intention of actually testing us on the subject matter, I decided my time would be better spent on other things.

Reading through the first 40 pages last week, I was surprised simultaneously by how much I did and didn't remember about Mexico's pre-Columbian civilizations. Then I got to page 46, and noticed the corner was turned down. There was a book mark further on in, so I knew this wasn't where I'd stopped reading four years ago when I last put it down. Rather, there was something on the page that had stood out to me, and I was just now, four years later, getting back to it. It was a piece of poetry, written sometime around 1430 by the Náhuatl (Aztec) philosopher-king Nezahualcóyotl. No, I don't remember exactly how that's pronounced, but I do remember why it stood out to me:

      The obscurity of the night
      Reveals the brilliancy of the stars 
      No one has power
      To alter these heavenly lights,
      For they serve to display
      The greatness of their Creator
      And as our eyes see them now,
      So saw them our earliest ancestors,
      And so will see them
      Our latest posterity. 

Does that sound familiar? If you've ever read the book of Psalms in the Hebrew scriptures it probably does.

In King David's Psalm 19, he writes:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

In Psalm 8, he writes:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Isn't it just a little bit amazing that separated by a few millennia and the Atlantic Ocean, two kings, David and Nezahualcóyotl looked up at the night sky, and were inspired to write poetry with such similar thought streams? There's more though. In the next stanza, Nezahualcóyotl writes:

      The grandeurs of life
      Are like the flowers in color and in fate;
      The beauty of these remain
      So long as their chaste buds gather and store
      The rich pearls of the dawn,
      And saving it, drop it in liquid dew;
      But scarcely has the Cause of All
      directed upon them the full rays of the sun,
      When their beauty and glory fail,
      and the brilliant gay colors
      Which decked forth their pride
      Wither and fade.

Now from the Israelite prophet Isaiah:

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Fascinating, no? People who could not be further separated by history and geography look at the seemingly eternal beauty of the cosmos, and then look at the fleeting, impermanent beauty of life on Earth, and their response is to write songs acknowledging the sovereignty of the Creator they believe in.

This is probably the part of the post where I'm expected to a) Start raving conspiracy theories about pre-Columbia contact, aliens and a precise date of the apocalypse––somehow leading to your need to purchase precious metals through my affiliate program, or b) Start banging you over the head with: "You must believe in God because of this, that and the other thing."

I'm not going to do either of those. Instead, I just wanted to share something I found that struck a chord with me the other day. It's something that struck a chord with some very different people many years ago when they looked up at the stars.

And maybe it strikes a chord with you too.




Photo Credit: NASA and STScI. Public domain under contract NAS5-26555

3 comments:

Meg said...

There's nothing like looking up the stars to give you some serious perspective. It was so nice to get out of the city and see the stars in Wilberville the other night - the Rochester sky just doesn't quite do it for me most nights.

Andrew said...

Glad you were able to come! And the stars were beautiful that night. They were predicting rain for so long that I was really glad it turned into such an amazing evening.

Meg said...

Oh man, I'm glad it didn't rain - I don't think it could have possibly been a more perfect night!