FOUR SUNDAY OF ADVENT – YOUTH
SPECIAL STORY – THE STAR
(Note: I use the term astrophysics in this piece. I have a friend who is one. It means: someone who studies the stars and space.)
There’s been stories about the Saturn and Jupiter alignment in the news. It’s being called the Christmas Star. This alignment would not last long enough for the Wise Men to follow it though. Today, I submit the following famous short story by Arthur C. Clarke for you to consider. I am telling the story in my own words but with quotes. The link to the story and video are at the end of the piece.
“The Star,” written in London in 1954, appears in Clarke’s book, The Nine Billion Names of God: The Best Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. The story has been used twice as a script for the Twilight Zone.
In the future, a spaceship visits a planet. One of the astrophysicists is from the Vatican in Rome. As a member of the Catholic church he studies the planets. What he has just seen troubles his faith. The reason? Their latest stop has been on a planet where they have found proof of life. The people have left records that he is studying.
Most of the others on the ship are not Christians. The crew has had a hard time with having a Catholic priest on board.
Dr. Chandler, for instance, could never get over it (Why are medical men such notorious atheists?) Sometimes he would meet me on the observation deck, where the lights are always low so that the stars shine with undiminished glory. He would come up to me in the gloom and stand staring out of the great oval port, while the heavens crawled slowly around us as the ship turned over and over with the residual spin we had never bothered to correct.
“Well, Father,” he would say at last, “it goes on forever and forever, and perhaps Something made it. But how you can believe that Something has a special interest in us and our miserable little world—that just beats me.”
But no matter the arguments, the crew found it funny that a priest had been assigned to the ship. The area they were investigating was a small nebula called the Phoenix. It surrounded what had once been . . . a star.
The priest now was staring into space and praying. Some would say he questioned God.
What would you, Father (note: his teacher), have made of this knowledge that has come into my keeping, so far from the little world that was all the Universe you knew? Would your faith have risen to the challenge, as mine has failed to do?
As the first ship to reach the Phoenix Nebula, no one was prepared for what they found. The priest looks at a book from the planet, “AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAN.“ Even for us who might not understand Latin, we can see Glorian as Glory. The priest knows that every year stars explode.
But three or four times in every thousand years occurs something beside which even a nova pales into total insignificance. When a star becomes a supernova, it may for a little while outshine all the massed suns of the Galaxy. The Chinese astronomers watched this happen in A.D. 1054, not knowing what it was they saw. Five centuries later, in 1572, a supernova blazed in Cassiopeia so brilliantly that it was visible in the daylight sky.
He and the crew are here to find out what had happened, when and why. The crew had seen what remained of the star first. As they started searching for planets, they really hadn’t expected to find one. It wasn’t until they reached the outermost area of the star’s system that they found a “shrunken” planet. The people had left their records in an underground vault with a marker over the top. The people who had lived here had lived in harmony and peace with no war. They traveled to other planets. They created great things of beauty. They were warned that the star would explode and had hidden their history, art and music so their story could live for the future. When the crew opened the vault, the pictures showed life as we know it here on earth. They had left a key to decode their language.
The priest had dated the year the star went supernova. It happened during a key earth event and it troubled him. Why did these people have to die in such a way at that time? He knew now when the light from that explosion reached earth. Knowing he shouldn’t question, he found it hard.
Now, from the astronomical evidence and the record in the rocks of that one surviving planet, I have been able to date it very exactly. I know in what year the light of this colossal conflagration reached the Earth. I know how brilliantly the supernova whose corpse now dwindles behind our speeding ship once shone in terrestrial skies. I know how it must have blazed low in the east before sunrise, like a beacon in that oriental dawn. There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet, oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?
The Twilight Zone takes it a step further. His friend shows up with a new document from the surface. A poem has been found on the planet. He hopes that it offers peace for the priest. The poem goes:
Mourn not for us—for we have seen the light.
Have looked on beauty.
Have lived in peace and love.
Grieve but for those who go alone,
Unwise, to die in darkness
and never see the sun.
The Twilight Zone, aired December 20, 1985.
Link to the story: https://sites.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf
Link to The Twilight Zone. You can find it on the CBS site but the YouTube site comes up faster. Part One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SECLzGKDTgY
What would you have done if you were the priest and discovered what had caused the Christmas star? Would you question God? Would you accept it?
Let me know the answer because I’m interested in your thoughts.