A Constant Light

A Constant Light

Pentecost 95

It is known as the North Star.  The brightest star in the night sky, children learn to first find the constellation Ursa Minor and then look at the tip of its handle to locate it.  Known by its scientific name of Polaris, this tar is the celestial body most closely aligned with the north pole of the earth’s axis and has been used to guide mankind home since the beginning of time… except that it hasn’t.

The constellations were once one of man’s greatest mythologies and the basis for many gods and goddesses.  Which came first?  It is not pertinent to our discussion today but it is a great topic for discussion.  Did someone name a grouping of stars in the visible night sky after belief in a particular deity or was an image seen in the night heavens the reason for a particular belief?

Polaris is the star most closely aligned to the north and many call it brightest star in the nighttime sky.  Actually, it is not the brightest, coming in at approximately number fifty, depending on where you are, the time of year, and a number of other factors.  Polaris has not always been the North Star, either.

Three thousand years before the common era (BCE), a star known as Thuban in the constellation Draco served as the North Star.  Today it is invisible in urban areas being only one-fifth as bright as Polaris.  One thousand years BCE, a Greek navigator named Pytheas disdained the concept of a North Star.  Ursa Minoris was actually the star closest to the north celestial pole but it was too far to be of any real use for navigation.  During Roman times the celestial pole was equal distance between Cynosura and Kochab, Ursa Minoris A and Ursa Minoris B.

Kochab is actually one hundred and thirty times more luminous and these two stars are found in the bowl of the Little Dipper, Ursa Minor.  Cynosura was also known in Anglo-Saxon England by the name scip-steorra or “ship star”.  Cynosura was called Stella Polaris in the sixteenth century although it was several degrees from the actual northern celestial pole.

The earth may seem constant to us, the ground usually remaining under our feet except for earthquakes and sink holes but in reality the earth is always moving.  As it rotates around the sun, it also rotates on its axis which means that the North Star of today will not be the North Star of the tomorrow in time to come.  Around the year 3000 ACE, the star Gamma Cephei or Alrai will become the star closest to the northern celestial pole.  It will be replaced by that Star Iota Cephei in the years 5200 ACE, and then in 10000 ACE, the star Deneb will be the North Star at a position within five degrees of the North Pole.

Polaris, our current North Star, will once again regain its throne as the star closest to the northern celestial pole in 27800 ACE (or CE) but it will not be as close to the pole as it is now.  In fact, Its closest position the North Pole was in 23600 BCE.  Does this mean we should not use Polaris as a guide to determine the compass point of north if lost?  Of course it doesn’t.  It simply means that life is constantly evolving and mankind is as well.

The religion, beliefs, or faith of mankind have long been used as a guiding principle for how one lives.  Whether or not you consider yourself religious or spiritual, you have a sense of self, a sense of how to live.  Even the most spontaneous individual has a system for living.  When we feel hunger, we hope to something to eat.  When cold, we seek warmth, either from a change in room temperature, by applying more clothing, or by leaving the frigid area.  Life is based upon stimulus-response.

The monotheistic mythologies of the Abrahamic religions gave a sense of navigation to their deity.  Ancient mythologies had man reacting to the deities of the various cultures but this monotheistic deity was more a compass point for daily living.  “Or Goyim” was a “light to the nations”.  Faith was not just to be a part of the collective culture but a personal belief and the deity “Jehovah Ori” not just a deity but “the Lord my light”.

A tree planted in the ground will grow at an approximate rate, much like the North Star is approximately the star closest to the northern celestial pole.  However, as we have learned, Polaris will not always be the North Star and neither will a tree planted grow exactly as another of the same species planted at the same time.  As mankind grew, even with one monotheistic mythology, mankind grew differently and the deity of these faiths was seen from differing perspectives.  There may have been one deity but it had differing interpretations.  The “Jehovah El Emeth”, this “Lord God of truth” was seen from diverse perspectives.

There are those who might claim there is no one deity.  There are those that reject the scientific view that Polaris will not always be the North Star.  After all, who will be around to verify, who could be able to see both Polaris and Gamma Cephai?  The answer is, of course, no one.  Man/Woman cannot live as long as the stars do.

What is important is how we believe.  I need not worry about the North Star three thousand years from now.  I need to worry about that which can lead me home, that which can give my life meaning and purpose.  We all need a North Star in our living, virtual, spiritual, and actual.

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