Of Planets, Prophets, Practices And Prayer

The glowing orb of the October 2020 Harvest Moon seen above some tall grass.
Gazing at the stars and moon in the night sky during chaotic times can foster a sense of stability. (Photo courtesy of Tech News Vision)

Just when you think the state of the country can’t get any more chaotic, it does. Even some of my most devout friends confide that they are struggling to draw meaning from it all. As one said recently, “I have found myself asking God just when justice and truth, mercy and peace will prevail.”

I am equally mystified at times by the flood of rapidly unfolding troubling events. It’s why I like to step outside on clear nights and gaze at the sky.

The night sky this week put on a dazzling show, with Mars glowing like a rose-colored ornament next to the brilliant orb of the Harvest Moon. The distinctive three-star combination of Orion’s Belt dangled nearby, while closer to dawn Venus and Regulus shone like competing floodlights.

Seeing the constellations and the planets gives me a sense that there is an overarching stability to the universe that even the current chaos cannot unsettle.

In those moments, I experience something of what the writer of Psalm19 must have felt in proclaiming, “The heavens declare the glory of God /And the firmament proclaims the work of God’s hands/ Day unto day conveys the message/ Night unto night imparts the knowledge.”

Hope came from a few other sources as well. I often find conferences more tiring than inspiring, but one at which I spoke a few days ago, on the prophetic voices of women — sponsored by the Hank Center of Loyola University/Chicago — proved unusually uplifting.

I had harbored a rather narrow vision of the prophet as a kind of seer. Keynote speaker Sister Carol Zinn of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious described prophets as those who work for the common good, who seek to build what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.”

The prophet is someone with the courage to “feel with, listen to, hurt with and laugh with,” Sister Carol said. In that sense, we can all be prophets. And don’t we need more of them right now?

I also learned a wonderful “prophetic” practice from my friend Joyce Huber, who attended a retreat I guided last week on the writings of Thomas Merton. Joyce said she reflects every day on the following questions:

What am I grateful for? Who am I checking on or connecting with today? What expectations of normal am I letting go of? How am I getting outside? How am I moving my body? What beauty am I creating, cultivating or inviting in?

Today, Oct 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a champion of the poor, protector of animals, and patron saint of the environment. One of the most beautiful prayers ever penned is attributed to St. Francis. Its words seem particularly fitting for the struggles we’re experiencing. Perhaps we can commit to reflecting on these words every day during the month of October.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where there is injury, pardon
where there is doubt, faith
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much

seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.