(Images of 227 star trails taken during the night of the Perseids meteor shower, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Hebrews 11:1-3, 11:8-16:Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Ever had the experience of hearing something new in a familiar piece of Scripture? Today, both in church, and later, when I read this text at two nursing home visits with elderly parishioners, I heard Verse 13-16 of this for what seemed like the first time: "All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them."
This week is also one of my favorite times of summer--the Perseids meteor shower. I have an interesting relationship with this natural phenomenon--some of the best displays I've seen of the Perseids have happened at some of the worst times of my life--times I was nowhere near the promises and the best I could do was stand in the dark and catch a glimmer of their existence, as fleet and temporary as a meteor trail, and greet them.
I am a person who is very intimately attuned to this country home I've lived in for 13 years. I take my evening walks down the dirt road past my house and I literally notice day by day the tiny, seemingly insignificant changes. I feel my way through the seasons. Just today on my walk, I thought about those subtle evening things that remind me summer is waning. Only a rare lightening bug flickers, compared to June, when they seem more like the twinkling lights of the big city. Prairie roses and multiflora roses have given way to ironweed and butterfly weed, and the first of the sunflowers--mostly tickseed sunflowers--have just started to flower. The indigo bunting I sometimes see on my walks has started to have a little darker, more neon plumage. I need to get my walk finished before 8:30 p.m. as the days of walking as late as 9something p.m. are over.
The world of my little country home is an interesting balance between sameness and anti-sameness. Yes, I've come to rely on the sameness of these tiny more or less repeatable changes, but no two years here have been the same. Some of these changes wax and wane in their vividness and their obscurity. Each year, I'm a year older. Something in my life has changed. I never really get to go back to the year before. I think about how every major change in my life, I've placated myself by saying, "Oh, well, if it doesn't work, I'll just go back to the way it was before." But that is a lie I think I tell myself to prod myself forward. The truth is, even when things don't work out, even when my hopes are shattered, the door is barred to that place--perhaps not physically or geographically, but the fact of the matter is, I've changed. The experience--even the failed ones--have changed me. Yet that elusive heavenly country is still there before me.
The Perseids, if nothing else, remind me to, above all else, remain awake. The heavenly country is out there somewhere, even if the sky is overcast, and even if the way home seems elusive.