Friday, January 21, 2011

Look to the Stars

Henrietta Leavitt had an unusual talent.

She was good at counting stars.

In the 1800s, Henrietta was employed by Harvard University to begin a massive project. The university wanted to produce a careful record of the position, brightness and color of every star in the sky.

At this point in history, the computers we rely on today were non-existent. In addition to basic calculators, the scientists depended on a different type of sophisticated machine: the human brain.

Scientists like Miss Leavitt were paid about 25 cents an hour to look at photographs of the night sky – counting, measuring and recording the stars.

Henrietta found that she was very good at this job. She began volunteering at the observatory in 1893 when she was just 25. The eldest daughter of a minister, Henrietta wanted more than anything else to learn astronomy. She was also highly educated, receiving training from Oberlin College and Radcliffe.

Despite her troubles with increasing hearing loss and poor health, Henrietta’s work in astronomy led to the discovery of new laws of science and astronomy. She proposed a relationship between the brightness of stars and their distance that contributed to the later work of Edwin Hubble.

To this day, Henrietta Leavitt is remembered for her significant work with stars. What better career could you have than examining the heavens? For me, anyway, there is something about stars spread across the evening sky that makes me think about God.

In the summer my family likes to go camping in northern Wisconsin. Even in mid-July when the sun is at its hottest, the evenings are cool enough for campfires. One of our favorite night time things to do is to walk to a nearby golf course, stretch out a blanket on the empty fairway, and lie on our backs to view the stars.

The galaxy spreads as far as we can see. With no competing lights to block our view, we can see every constellation, shooting stars and even an occasional planet. Very often our joking and talking fades as we each get lost in the wonder of the heavens.

A few years ago, our daughter brought along a girlfriend. The two girls were a bit nervous at the night time trek through the dark woods. Every creak of a branch would make them jump, but the same silence fell upon us as we star gazed.

After minutes of quietness, their young voices broke into song – first one, then the other in sweet harmony. They were singing the words of a popular song about stars and planets – but in this hushed heavenly surrounding, it felt as grand as any hymn I’ve ever heard.

The Bible talks a lot about the wonders of the stars. In Psalm 147: 4, 5, the psalmist writes about God, “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”

Tonight, if the sky is clear, step outside and say your evening prayers under the canopy of the stars. Look to the skies and recognize the greatness of God. It will make your worries, your concerns, seem small and inconsequential in contrast to the power and glory of the Almighty.

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