By Msgr. Steven A. Ferrari
A bitterly cold late January Friday evening found me outdoors at dusk on an “Owl Prowl” in northwestern Connecticut. A few weeks prior, I had arranged with my friend and fellow (though ‘expert’) birder, Ken, to search out the wintering, yet active, nocturnal large birds.
Our goal was to see, or hopefully at least hear, four different owl species.
Bundled up in several layers of warm clothing, I still felt the bitter cold. I couldn’t wait to jump back into Ken’s car to crank up the heat as we drove from one local area to another where an owl had been known to inhabit. But for two hours, we were totally and disappointingly unsuccessful. Not one owl was found.
Yet the evening’s adventure was not a total loss. For we travelled down woodsy country roads where there were absolutely no street lights, nor house lights or traffic lights – just the utter darkness of the winter night. Suddenly, I looked straight up into the cloudless, clear night sky, and what I saw took my breath away. (Or did the bitter cold do that?)
Thousands and thousands of stars were visible, and a few planets as well. I recalled and recognized constellations I had gazed upon fifty years ago when as a teenager my family spent summers in upstate New York, far away from the city lights: Orion, the Big and Little Dipper, the North Star. With my binoculars the stars came that much closer and brighter.
On this moonless night, the stars were the only light. I was amazed and rejoiced in their number, clarity and beauty. The star-gazing experience that night made up for my disappointment in not finding owls.
Best-selling author and former editor-at-large of “Christianity Today,” Philip Yancey, in his 1988 book “Disappointment With God,” wrote about the story of creation in the Bible’s first chapters of the Book of Genesis. He states: “At the heart of the universe is a smile, a pulse of joy passed down from the moment of creation…That is the feeling God had when he looked over what he had made and pronounced it good. In the beginning, the very beginning, there was no disappointment, only joy.”
It is my belief that one can find such joy in the natural world around us – in all of God’s creation. Even in the deep cold of winter, God is made manifest in creation, beloved and bejeweled in beauty. Early Friday morning, Feb. 1 at about 6 a.m. the TV weatherman on the local Connecticut channel showed a live view of the clear dawn’s eastern sky. I quickly threw on my clothes, coat and hat to go outside to marvel at the perfect alignment in a tight straight line of the crescent moon, the planet Venus and the planet Jupiter. Another joy of nature!
Though we may get discouraged and disappointed by where our troubled world is heading, we need to get back to the beginning, yes, even to Genesis, and remember that God looked upon everything He had created (even us humans!) and declared it was “very good.” It, indeed ‘we,’ brought, and still bring God joy.
Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s parish in Woodside.