Garbage Night

Now that they've closed two out of the three township dumps, the recyclables get picked up at the roadside each Friday. I still miss doing the dump run - driving out to my favourite landfill with a carful of newspaper, cardboard, glass, tin cans, and plastic. But I suppose this is environmentally sounder and more efficient, so I shouldn't complain. Or not too much, anyway. So each second Thursday night, the kids and I drag our blue recycling boxes out to the end of the driveway and put out the garbage.

Last Thursday was garbage night--with a difference. As I was toing-and-froing from the garage with blue bins full of plastics and paper, I glanced skywards and stopped briefly in my tracks. We don't often get night skies of this clarity--or when we do, it's usually too cold to stand out there with your jaw dropped, appreciating them properly. It's hard to contemplate a brilliant night sky when your toes are freezing

I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I couldn't get all the details; but even so I could pick out the stronger, more obvious constellations --Orion's Belt was a real stunner--and I could tell that the sky was adazzle. But at the same time, I knew I was seeing only maybe one-fifth of the stars that I could see if I had my glasses on. And I knew that out in the real country (I am on the edge of town) I would be able to see thousands more stars than I could in my townlight-polluted yard. Out in the country, I could probably see the Milky Way itself, a drift of light across the sky, representing a gazillion stars. (In the city, on the other hand, I'd be lucky to see even a handful of stars. Yet another reason for living out in the boonies...)

I know intellectually and theoretically that all the stars I could conceivably see with the mortal eyes I come equipped with are the tiniest fraction of the stars in the known universe, especially when you throw in all those hundreds of thousands of galaxies, each a whirl of unimaginable numbers of stars. I may know this intellectually and theoretically, but there is no way I can begin to understand it. This truth is hopelessly beyond my grasp. I cannot wrap my limited mind and vision around such a hugeness, such a brilliance. I can only see the handful of stars available to me, and then only if I've got my glasses.

I know also that I know absolutely zilch about all these stars. I can recognize and name a handful of the most obvious constellations, and that's about it. Maybe I could find the North Star, but I wouldn't put any serious bets on it. There are people for whom this night sky is as familiar as their own back yard, but who am I to claim that?--especially since my own back yard is something of a mystery to me.

I cannot understand either the macro or the micro, neither the swing of the galaxies nor the mice starting to stir out of their hibernation in the litter behind my yard's back wall. I can't even properly understand myself or the people around me, or myself. I know so very little.

I know that I cannot understand God, who is so infinitely much larger than all the galaxies put together, who is of unimaginable colours and textures, who goes on forever. If I can't encompass a mere night sky--*with* my glasses, even!--how can I begin to claim any real understanding of God?

He is the Creator; I know that. I believe that he set this whole huge mass of flaming matter into motion, set the galaxies swinging through space away from the central point where it all began. I have no trouble seeing God behind the Big Bang and all that followed it. I have no trouble seeing God in the shaping of all stars, all planets, all moons and asteroids and comets. I can easily imagine God's finger in the coming together of macromolecules in the primordial sludge, and in the subsequent evolution of all forms of living beings (even some of the weird Burgess Shale ones), starting with that cluster of macromolecules--the long dance unfolding and weaving, complex and many-layered, full of subtlety and surprises, dead ends and promising beginnings. I believe that somehow it all happens under God's quiet direction--not through forcible controlling, but by the Word, the will towards God's own ends. After all, when God claims center stage at the end of the Book of Job, what does he talk about?

But that's seeing what God *does*, not who God *is*; and I know that I cannot begin to imagine who God is. I can only, in my terribly limited way, perceive God in this world, the world I can lay claim to with my own however-many senses. I can feel God under my feet, in the solid dark soil that supports us all; in the air that fills our lungs, sustaining our lives; in the preciousness of clear water; in all growing and living things, and in all people who have not turned their backs on God and walked away in their own perverse directions. I can understand a God who is within me, around me: "about my paths and my ways."

And I can believe that God is *both*, at the same time and without contradiction: both huger, more brilliant, and more mysterious than an infinity of universes; and also close and intimate as the air itself - dearest and faithfulest of friends, most complete and perfect of lovers. Both, at once.

We got all the recyclables out and our one half-full bag of real garbage, in the big 'coon-proof blue plastic garbage bin. The least we can do for this small corner of God's so beautiful creation is to try as best we can not to make things worse than they already are.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 25 Mar 2000
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