Walking home in the dark last night, my village was aglow with fairy lights…thousands of tiny, shining stars, blue, white and all the colours of the rainbow, twinkling in the darkness and lighting the way. The everyday ordinariness of living vanished against their sparkle, the damp pavements reflected their glimmer and, for a moment, there was the childhood magic of Christmas Eve in the air once again.
The scene reminded me of a video that my son had shown me a few days ago, footage from the Hubble telescope, presented as if the viewer was journeying with it, at terrific speeds, deep into space. Points of light grew bigger and bigger as you approached. Fantastic nebulae and multi-hued stars flew past… things we cannot see with the naked eye were revealed in all their complex and colourful beauty. Billions, trillions of them… numbers so vast that we probably cannot name them except with a mathematical expression, so extreme we cannot begin to conceive of them.
We do not know how big the universe might be… even the scientists cannot tell us; for all they know it may be infinite. So we cannot even begin to estimate how many stars there are… or how many more planets may orbit around them. And that is before we get into the whole concept of a multiverse…
I watched the video in wonder. From a distance, every single star is simply a tiny, white pinprick in the blackness of space. It is only as you ‘fly’ closer that their beauty is revealed. And somewhere, just another minute pinprick of light against the dark, is the little blue planet we call home. It puts things in perspective.
It is highly unlikely that ours is the only planet to be inhabited… scientists estimate that perhaps sixty billion planets may be so… But it is possible. Our little earth is, as far as we currently know, the only life-giving planet in our corner of the universe. It is also our only home… and that makes it incredibly precious.
It is, compared to the rest of space, very, very small. Far smaller than we, as individuals who walk upon the earth, in comparison to our home. And yet, were just a single one of us not here, were a single one of us ‘erased’ from being, the entire universe would be changed. It would not notice our absence…. But it would be different. We are, at the same time, utterly insignificant… and absolutely essential to what is.
The human race is, in spite of all our perceptions, a small family on a small planet. There are around a hundred billion planets in the Milky Way alone… there are less than eight billion human beings alive today.
We too are no more than tiny points of light, moving across the surface of our world. Like the fairy lights, it is only when we come together than we create a glow that can light the way forward. Like the stars, from a distance we all look the same… pinpricks of being against the darkness. It is only when we are able to come close to each other that the true beauty, complexity and colour that lights us can be known.
At this season when, from many paths and perspectives, we celebrate the light, wish each other joy and think of peace, I found the stars and fairy lights to be good teachers.