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Sky Sunday - September 19, 2021

By Joan Kessler

Jeremiah 4:23-28 Ps. 19:1-6

When you look to the sky…what do you see? I have enjoyed receiving your sky photos this past week. Each one held is own unique moment in time of the sky before you…some were local close to your home and others were in foreign locations…all at unique times of the day and settings…yet the sky is the sky. It goes with us and we all live under one sky that contains the precise balance of atmospheric pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide, to support life in all its varied forms.

The sky is everything that lies above the surface of the Earth, including the atmosphere and outer space. It is an abstract sphere, concentric to the earth on which the sun, the moon, the stars appear to be drifting. The daytime sky appears blue because air molecules scatter shorter wavelengths of sunlight more than longer ones. The night sky appears to be a mostly dark surface or region allowing the illumination of stars to be visible to the naked eye.

This summer saw our atmospheric home impacted in severe ways. First it was the arrival of a heat dome that blanketed us in record-breaking temperatures in the mid to high 40s. Meteorologists describe the summer of 2021 as a 1000-year weather event made 150 times more likely by climate change. These hot, dry conditions ushered in a wildfire season that we are just now coming out the other side. At times in July and August, we lived in the midst of some of the poorest air quality readings in the world. We retreated indoors. The robins that inhabited the evergreen just beyond my patio and provided countless moments of entertainment, vacated. The eagles and the ospreys that soared above the lake with little effort were noticeably absent. Where did all the birds go?

Air quality is not our only concern with respect to our sky home. Light pollution is also becoming a growing concern. Some ecosystems are adversely affected by excessive amounts of artificial light and require darkness to thrive and survive. Again, birds are impacted by light pollution as longer, artificially lit days and shortened nights induce early breeding in some species. This lack of darkness disrupts internal clocks and affects migration schedules, which are a precisely timed biological behavior. Endangered sea turtles require dark beaches to nest. Both adult turtles and their young become confused by too much artificial light, causing them to turn towards road ways instead of bodies of water. And of course we can see the amount of urban lighting at night that is unnecessary and is really a waste of fuel and natural resources. Studies have shown that more than 80% of the world lives under light polluted skies. Too much skyglow at night also prevents us from observing our galaxy, something experts contend will have an impact on culture and our knowledge of our celestial sphere if current practices continue. The stars, the birds, the turtles….they will disappear.

Jeremiah’s poetic prophesy is a call to notice. The prophecy of Jeremiah lands right in the middle of impending doom and destruction that is about to befall Judah. The Babylonians are closing in and their plundering will see the exile and foreign occupation of the Israelites for decades to come. So his worldview is not very cheerful at the moment. His prophecy is one of lament and grief. The Israelites have turned their backs on God and have allowed themselves to be ruled by self-interest rather than virtues that uphold the sanctity of all creation. His prophetic vision sees the earth as a wasteland and void; there is no light; the birds of the air have left; the land has become a desert place and no longer produces fruit. It’s as if his prophecy un-creates the narrative of Genesis 1... an undoing of all creation.

But all is not lost. Jeremiah affirms this is not the end. His listeners are reminded of a God who, although is not intervening in the consequences of human choices, seeks a covenant and relationship with humanity. The hoped for outcome from the prophet is a community that pays attention to the signs and outcomes and returns to God with covenants written on their hearts.

While the sky we are presented in Jeremiah, proclaiming impending doom, Psalm 19 sings of the Divine’s creative and life-sustaining work. We are to look to the sky, the atmosphere, the realms above and around us for our experience of God. When I look up at the sky, or when I am driving down the highway with the horizon in full view, I am reminded I am but one grain of sand on God’s beach. I am not the center of the universe and there is an immense humility that comes with this pondering. Instead of human words and speech, we are called to notice how the sky communicates with and about the Creator. And we are invited to this relationship, to paying attention if you will, to all that space, the sky that reaches from our feet as far as the eye can see. We live under one sky, this Sunday reminds me of this….we share the atmosphere with every living creature, plants, birds of the air, fish of the sea, four-legged and the two-legged. The sky tells stories and reveals the truth about the impact of human behavior and climate change. But the atmosphere is not one isolated piece. The sky and the earth are in a constant state of flux, reacting to each other. If we destroy the land, we will end up destroying the sky. We know, however, from the lockdown of COVID last year, there was a noticeable positive impact on air quality, animal habitats and other ecosystems. We know humans can adapt…we can drive less, consume less, and make a noticeable difference to the environment, both atmospheric and the ground we build our homes and communities upon. Turn off our exterior lights when not needed…it’s pretty simple really. When we forget our covenant to Creation, everything suffers….this is Jeremiah’s ancient prophecy that finds us in our homes, in our places that have witnessed heat domes and wildfires, and abysmal air quality. What difference can we begin to make?

The heavens, the Hebrew word for skies you might be interested to know, remind us of our place in the entire spectrum of creation and our interwoven relationship to the Source of our Beings, our Creator. I return to my initial question to you all this morning: What do you see when you look to the sky? Where does your holy imagination take you? What do you wonder about…what do you long for as you cast your gaze heavenward…look up today and consider answers to these very auspicious and yet human questions as we live into the stewardship of this planet we call home. Amen.

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