Sunday, August 26, 2012
The Pilgrimage of a Star: Sirius' Wanderings....
The bright star is Sirius, the "Dog Star." It defines the eastern sky in these "dog days" of July and August. Both the Egyptians and the Romans noticed it.
For the Egyptians it meant the Nile was about to rise. For them the "Dog Star" was a watchdog: it told them to move to higher ground.
For the Romans it meant the arrival of the hottest, most humid part of summer. For them the "Dog Star" was a listless, panting pooch: it told them to get out of town. They called the season of Sirius, the "dog days," "dies caniculares." They believed it to be an evil time, and they sacrificed a dog to ward off demons. Then those who could afford it beat a hasty retreat to the mountains or the beach. Centuries later, another Roman put the season into words: "the sea boiled, the wine turned sour, the dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid."
I haven't sunk so deep into the August doldrums not to be up before dawn. Sirius still burns a bright hole in the sky before sunrise. So what is the "Dog Star" telling us?
I'll speak for myself.
Here in Minnesota, at 45 degrees N in latitude, dawn takes its time. If I'm up early, the star commands the eastern sky. I sit in a pool of lamplight and steaming coffee, putting together the morning ritual of reading, writing, and prayer. When I look up, a new light crowds out the Dog Star. Sirius loses luster, less dominant in the eastern sky. Minutes later it vanishes, eclipsed by the rising sun.
By all lights and by any reckoning, the sun is a lesser star. Standing on Sirius, you couldn't even see the sun.
But it's our star, and it rules our days. By the time it rises, Sirius vanishes from view. I regard the star as it dims, flickers, then blinks out entirely. Its departure from the eastern sky marks the beginning of my August workday. With sunrise I head to the river path, the pool, the computer. The List begins; the Day's distractions take over.
Just as the earth turns away from the Dog Star, I turn away from the morning rituals to lean into the day's tasks.
But does Sirius really go away? The Dog Star is always there. True to its nature, the Dog Star remains faithful. It may be temporarily overwhelmed by the brighter light of lesser stars, but Sirius is always there.
And when the earth turns to it again, as it does in these days before dawn, Sirius does not fail us.
A metaphor for the Mystery: when we turn to it, it's there, ever faithful, ever luminous.
So here's the question: what is Sirius telling you?