On a recent late, moonless Saturday night Lori and I were driving on Route 322 in the Juniata Valley, near Newport, in a convertible with the top down. The highway, there, is sandwiched between a steep forested mountain on one side and the Juniata River on the other. So other than the headlights from other vehicles, and the occasional dusk to dawn light, it was dark- really dark, and the stars were stunning! We spend a good bit of time in that area, and have noticed the intensely starry sky many times before, but even so it's hard not to pause and stare upward for a bit. When we took our exit off of Rt. 322, no one was behind us, so we just sat still at the stop sign for a little while and admired the sky. The Big Dipper was big and bold and right in front of us, just above the windshield. Its pointer stars made the North Star easy to find, which, in turn, located the Little Dipper. Venus looked like a flashlight among the myriad tinier pinpricks of light, and the Milky Way streaked across the sky straight overhead, easily mistaken for a band of thin clouds. As we turned onto our road, Cassiopeia was clearly visible over my left shoulder. It's easy to find, if it's dark enough. It looks like a big ''W'', and is supposed to be a Queen's throne. I've always thought, since my scoutmaster pointed it out to us on a camping trip long ago, it looks more like a barber chair. I couldn't find Orion, though. I think he was still tucked behind the tree line ahead of us, and if we had waited he would have eventually risen into view.
Sunday night, about 9:30, when headed back toward York. The sky was, again, a vast sea of uncountable stars. But somewhere along the way, as we approached Harrisburg from the north, Lori said, ''The stars are gone.''
Indeed, the sky was no longer the deep black, or dark indigo blue it was just 20 minutes earlier, it was now a sort of gray-blue, and as we sat at the first traffic light we hit, near Linglestown, I looked up and could find only a handful of stars in the whole sky! As we continued down Front Street, the sky become pale amber, and I could find only 2 stars! For the rest of the trip, even along the relatively rural stretches of Route 83, the stars never returned, or at least no where near the show they put on up in the valley.
So where'd they go? Obviously, the stars are still there in all their vast numbers and in all their splendor. They still sketch out lions and hunters and dogs and bears and whatever else the imagination of a night time observer can find. But, sadly, in too many places they are faded into invisibility by man made, artificial light. Sadly, too, there are probably more than a few people who have never seen a starry sky, who have never seen Orion, who think the night sky is supposed to be amber.
There was once a time when people needed the starry sky to find their way. When there were no bright reflective green interstate signs, or no Garmin, a skilled traveler could find his way, even across the sea, with the stars. Good luck, though, to someone seeking the North Star passing through Harrisburg! Harrisburg has no North Star. To find it-to find the star that is key to establishing direction, a traveler must get away from the man made light, the fake light, the electric light.
So it is as we travel the dark sea of life. When we seek direction, or guidance, or help, or clarity, we can either immerse our selves in every form of light from every available source, and as a result likely never see the true light, the light that brings truth. We seek to hear a still small voice, and I often lament that voice can be so hard to hear! But we are awash, drowning, in a cacophony of voices that call out advice and guidance and direction, be they friends, or Oprah, or Dr. Phil, or Tony Evans, or Glenn Beck, or this book or that film, or this Pastor, or that teacher, and what we end up with is a vague, contradictory mixture of directions, a pale-amber sky like Front Street at night. If we truly want to hear the whisper of truth, to see the tiny, sparkling, pinpoint of true light that we know points north, we must take ourselves out of the flood of light and noise, and go into the dark, quiet valley. We just may be stunned at how gloriously brightly the real light shines.