Later that day Paul, a member of my congregation, posted a picture of the comet his son had taken. He added the advice that the comet could be seen that evening and folks might want to take advantage of that opportunity to see the comet themselves.“Of course!” I said to myself. “I can ask for help. And Paul knows stuff!” So I called and Paul sent me his best advice about how to see NEOWISE.
“Find a dark sky and a clear view off to the northwest. Once the stars come out, look for the Big Dipper. You’ll see the comet just below it.”
So that night my housemate Meighan and I headed to Sandy Point, below the little town of Langley, about five miles from my farm, where I knew we would have dark skies and a clear view across the water. I watched as the sun set. Like I had in the morning, I scanned the skies. I looked. And looked. And looked.
After about an hour, as the stars appeared I still couldn’t see anything that looked like a comet. And neither could Meighan. Then, just when I was sure I would once again be disappointed, I got a text from Paul, in Seattle. “I see it!” Thank you Paul. He texted more directions, and with his encouragement, I looked again.
A woman Meighan and I didn’t know, who had come out to that lonely road to watch too, said, “Is that it?” I turned the direction she was pointing and there is was. A kind of silver smudge across the sky. I looked through the smallish binoculars I had brought and the comet came into focus. It looked like it was diving toward the earth. And it was spectacular.After watching for another half hour I headed back to the farm. When I got home I stood in my lower field and looked into the sky again. And since I knew right where to look, I realized that I could still see the comet. From my own field. Right outside my door.
It is something to stand in my sheep pasture on Whidbey Island and gaze into the vastness of the heavens to watch a three mile wide ball of slushy ice streak away from the sun on its journey to the farthest edge of the universe. They say it won’t be back for about six thousand eight hundred years. Which makes me feel young and very old all at the same time.
Through the ages, comets have been seen to be portents of change. More often then not, they are linked to bad news. And yet, perspective can make all the difference. King Harold and English astronomers of 1066 saw the appearance of Halley’s Comet as a warning that predicted their defeat at the Battle of Hastings. But for William the Conqueror and his army the night sky announced victory. And centuries later, that same comet is said to have announced both the birth and the death of Mark Twain within the span of about 75 years.
And now we have NEOWISE. Named for the satellite telescope and an acronym for the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (don’t you wonder how long it took to come up with that one?) it also evokes a sense of New Wisdom.
Since my first sighting of the comet I have found myself walking out to my field every night looking for it. The skies have been cloudy these last few nights but I am hoping for another clear view of the comet before it fades. There are supposed to be a few more days of visibility, and then the moon will become too bright for us to see it. Somehow, as I look up, I feel connected to something bigger than myself in this brief moment of time.
I wonder what future folks will say about a comet appearing at this time in human history? My prayer is that they will look back in gratitude at the new wisdom, the new way of being, to which this season led us. If that is to be so, we all have a lot of work to do, right here, right now, on earth. So I will turn my eyes from the skies and roll up my sleeves. May this sign in the heavens reinforce our call to work for justice in this moment.
In theological terms, I lift up the UCC slogan, “God is still speaking.” And I add a slight edited version of Gracie Allen’s profound insight, from which the title of this blog is taken. “Never put a period where God has put a comet.”