‘But I still don’t understand, Sparrowhawk. I have seen my brother, even his prentice, make light in a dark place only by saying one word: and the light shines, it is bright, not a word by a light you can see your way by!’
‘Aye,’ Ged answered. ‘Light is power. A great power by which we exist, but which exists beyond our needs. Sunlight and starlight are time, and time is light. In the sunlight, in the days and years, life is. In a dark place life may call upon the light, naming it. – But usually when you see a wizard name or call upon some thing, some object to appear, that is not the same, he calls upon no power greater than himself, and what appears is an illusion only. To summon a thing that is not there at all, to call it by speaking its true name, that is a great mastery, not lightly used.’
Ursula Le Guin, Earthsea
I am drawn to the stories of the journey the Mages took over two thousand years ago, and not just because I am drawn to searching out wherever Wisdom, in any her guises, may appear. The idea of deliberately venturing out into the darkness with a single guiding light gives me hope that I too, may grow in courage enough so as to be able to navigate a path through the ‘dark night’ experiences of clinical depression which dog my days. There are times when God bids me rest from all my striving against pain; yet there are equally times when God says, enough escaping, running in the opposite direction, or enough waiting, the time to act is now. In that moment God invites me to ‘turn and face the darkness’ – and see that it is not dark.
Stars are an enduring symbol and metaphor in all Wisdom literature and are expressed in all art forms. I wonder why? The idea that they are light reaching us from billions of light years away always stirs awe and wonder in me. I find it a persistently beguiling idea that one can learn to navigate by the stars, literally as well as metaphorically. I wish I had this skill. When I wake in the night and try to pray for others who might also be awake in that night, for whatever reason, I often feel the need to go to the window, lift the curtain, and see if I can see the moon and her stars. I experience real joy when it is a clear night and moonlight washes directly over me. Yet I can still choose joy even when the clouds are full, and there feels like nothing to see. I can still pray:
Make of me a faithful vigil in the heart of darkness, I want to be a sentinel through all the dark hours. When the deep darkness falls, let me be your star. Name me One Who Watches Through the Night. Reveal to me the holiness of lingering with mystery. Employ me in the holy art of waiting.
- O teach me to live with a vigilant heart.
(Macrina Wiederkehr, ‘Litany of the Hours’ from Seven Sacred Pauses (177-179))
We smile at astrological hopes
And leave the sky to expert men
Who do not reckon horoscopes
But painfully extend their ken
In mathematical debate
With slide and photographic plate.
And yet, protest it if we will,
Some corner of the mind retains
The medieval man, who still
Keeps watch upon those starry skeins
And drives us out of doors at night
To gaze at anagrams of light.
Whatever register or law
Is drawn in digits for these two,
Venus and Jupiter keep their awe,
Wardens of brilliance, as they do
Their dual circuit of the west –
The brightest planet and her guest.
Is any light so proudly thrust
From darkness on our lifted faces
A sign of something we can trust,
Or is it that in starry places
We see the things we long to see
In fiery iconography?
‘For the Conjunction of Two Planets’
fiery iconography. iPhone image.