“Late last month the Boundary Waters was named a dark sky sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association, a nonprofit that works around the world to reduce light pollution and protect night skies. It’s one of just 13 such designations in the world.
To qualify, a place has to have exceptional starry nights, and a “nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural or education value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.
. . . We’re looking at a sky that people looked at thousands of years ago. And to me it feels like preserving a really special heritage. It’s part of the fabric of the Boundary Waters.”
– Boundary Waters designated a dark sky sanctuary
Many years before this recent designation of “dark sky sanctuary”, I took in the “exceptional starry nights”. I did this during my two-week canoe trips out of Ely, MN into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The trips were about camping out in a secluded wilderness with close friends. And for me at least, it was about getting out of town and experiencing a different reality. My parents were not campers.
Born and raised in the city of Chicago and later moving to the suburbs, life was lived under manmade illumination.
I ate, played, did homework – did everything – by the light of incandescent, fluorescent or thungsten-halogen lamps. At night I walked or rode my bike under the mango-yellow light of street lamps.
In the Boundary Waters Wilderness there was none of that. When the campfire smoldered out, or when I wandered off from the camp, the firmament provided the only light.
Within that night sky sanctuary, absent of “light pollution”, billions of stars were sending out light. I learned later that the starlight had come to me from the distant past.
The night sky sanctuary is a time machine. Things had been set in motion long before I came around. I needed to step outside my frame of reference to understand this.
Within the eyewitness testimony recorded in Mark’s gospel, there is an account not recorded in the other three gospels. We read of a blind man receiving his sight in two stages. The account is situated right after the account of the disciples not “seeing” – not understanding – what is right in from of them.
In Mark chapter 8 vs. 12-21, we find the disciples concerned about not having brought enough bread for their boat crossing. Their concern and confusion began when they did not understand Jesus’ warning.
“Beware!” said Jesus sternly to them, “watch out for leaven – the Pharisees’ leaven, and Herod’s leaven too!”
(One could say that “the leaven of the Pharisees” leads to a rising sense of self-righteousness. And, the “leaven” of Herod leads to a rising sense of self-importance. Both leavens lead to an eclipsing of the light of day.)
Jesus then sternly replies to the disciples and their mumbling about not bringing bread.
“Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? Have your hearts gone hard? Can’t you see with your two good eyes? Can’t you hear with your two good ears?”
Jesus goes on to point out the obvious to his disciples: they were directly involved in feeding the five thousand and the four thousand. Each time they started with only a few loaves and ended up with baskets full of leftovers. How could they not understand and take in what took place in their presence?
Then comes the account of the man without two good eyes. Mark 8: 22-26:
They arrived at Bethsaida. A blind man was brought to Jesus, and they begged him to touch him. He took his hand, led him outside the village, and put spittle on his eyes. Then he laid hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything?”
“I can see people,” said the man, peering around, “but they look like trees walking about.”
Then Jesus laid his hands on him once more. This time he looked hard, and his sight came back: he could see everything clearly. Jesus sent him back home.
Don’t even go into the village, he said.
The blind man recovers partial sight after Jesus touches him. He gains full sight after Jesus touches him again. The man looks really, really hard all around. Everything then came into view for the once-blind man. He can now “walk perfectly on all his paths.”
Though I’ve read this passage many times before, what stood out this time – Jesus leading the blind man out of the village before restoring his sight. Did the village represent an established framework of thinking – a frame of reference – that needed to be reorientated by Jesus?
Was the variation in setting, from where the man had long groped for a path to outside the village, meant to be an object lesson for the disciples? They also groped for understanding. Did they need to step outside the village understanding of things?
Was the relocation outside the village for the healing a means to clear away obstacles from the man’s path? To straighten out paths for the blind man and the understanding of the disciples?
The disciples and Mark’s readers would no doubt understand the meaning within this account. Seeing and not seeing correlate to understanding and not understanding in words of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 6: 9-10). And both states correlate with the path one walks. This is heard in the words of the Damascus Document found near the Qumran community.
The “Teacher” exhorts the reader to “Listen to me and I shall open your eyes so that you can see and understand the deeds of God . . . so that you can walk perfectly on all his paths” (CD2:14-16)
The gospel of Mark opens with quotes from prophets Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1) in reference to John the Baptist:
“Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of me; he will clear the way for you! A shout goes up in the desert: Make way for the Lord! Clear a straight path for him!”
In the verses that follow we read of relocation, redirection and the clearing away of impediments in order to walk perfectly.
Mark writes of John the Baptist appearing in the desert announcing a baptism of repentance. A relocation outside the village.
Then we read that “the spirt pushed him (Jesus) out into the desert.” A redirection from villages. (Imagine the night sky over the desert – a dark sky sanctuary declaring the glory of God.)
The blind man, once groping for a path, stepped outside his frame of reference with Jesus. There, he was healed and saw what the disciples had yet come to see– that Jesus is the Frame of Reference. All else is darkness, murkiness, groping, and . . . mumbling.
2017 Biologos Conference, Astronomer and President of BioLogos Deborah Haarsma: Christ and the Cosmos