Yesterday, Ron wrote about the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, one of my favorite places. There’s a mystical meaning to that chapel: the lower level, dark, but painted in rich colors, is meant to represent out life on earth, while the upper level, the one that’s all stained glass, is meant to suggest the beauty of Heaven.
My earliest sense of that beauty came when I was child. Each summer, I would spend time with my father in Vermont, and if we were lucky, we would be there for the Perseid meteor shower. Now, the skies in Vermont are a thing of glory; there is so little ambient light in the rural areas that thousands of stars appear on a clear evening: Orion, Cassiopeia, the Dippers, the gleaming Milky Way. It was hard to stand under that sky and not believe in magic: if this universe could produce gifts of such beauty, surely, anything was possible.
But the Perseids were something else. I’d go to bed at the usual time, then my father would wake me a few hours before dawn and we would bundle into sleeping bags or blankets and lie on the ground and look up, waiting. There! A streak of blue-white; first falling star of the evening. And there! There! There! At times they would come so thick that it seemed as if all the stars might begin to fall. I lay there, safe beside my father, and felt a primal wonder: that this world existed, that it was so beautiful and so strange, that I was so small, and yet, had been given so much. It was the kind of wonder that is at the root of all true faith: awe and gratitude together.
These days, I struggle to make time for wonder. I rush from place to place, appointment to appointment, task to task. Feed the dogs. Read the news. Attend the meeting. See the play. And it is good — so much of it is good! But it can crowd out the equally good, more primal need: to be still, to savor the sound of wind in the trees, the golden light on the tossing leaves, to know the beauty and power of this universe, and to sense my own small place in it. So small, and yet, so real.
Tonight, the Perseids will peak. They should be visible all night, but if you really want to see them, set your alarm for 2:00 a.m. and creep outside your door and wait. Just wait. And when you see them move, remember these words:
Who are these like stars appearing,
these before God’s throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
who are all this glorious band?
Alleluia! hark, they sing,
praising loud their heavenly King.
These are they whose hearts were riven,
sore with woe and anguish tried,
who in prayer full oft have striven,
with the God they glorified;
now, their painful conflict o’er,
God has bid them weep no more.