look up

I’ve been reading a bit about the science of awe, the effect of shocking beauty beyond ourselves, how it orients us to our place in the universe. Judson Chubbuck reflects on his experience of the stars, connecting us, and reminding us to look up.  -Renée

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…Psalm 91

“At night the stars put on a show for free.” Carol King, Jerry Goff, and the Drifters nailed me with that line in their 1964 R&B hit “Up on the Roof.”

I can’t remember exactly what was troubling fourteen year-old me that year when I heard that song. Could have been race relations, could have been the chronic threat of nuclear annihilation, could have been trouble with Russia over our bombing North Vietnam, China exploding its first atomic bomb. There was the threat of an “all out limited war” in Vietnam after the Tonkin Bay Incident and fresh memories and national grief lingering over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous November. My own Uncle Warner would die at his own hand after a hopeless cancer diagnosis early in December.

All these things were in front of our world and in my mind. But to be honest, I was probably mostly troubled about starting high school without a steady girlfriend and whether I would possibly make first string on the football team. No romance and low self-esteem can feel like the end of the world to the unseasoned. But the Drifters reminded me about the stars. Reminded me about pausing, and looking up when this old world starts getting us down. They also suggested there would be room enough for two under the stars and I really looked forward to that! 

I humbly submit that girls, fast cars, sports, fishing and hunting were a big part of my early adolescent priorities. These were followed by stargazing. Growing up in a rural Illinois community in the early sixties meant a clear dark sky and nearly 3000 points of light. Familiar constellations, the moon, comets, kinetic meteors, galaxies, and the arc of five bright planets, filled the 360-degree dome of the night sky year-round while the starry expanse and nebulosity of the Milky Way held centerstage of the April-September skies from south to north. This awe-inspiring generosity of a free heavenly light show was available to me any clear night I walked out of my house, paused, and looked up. Beholding the heavens outside my door I felt grounded and located in my spot in this grand universe. The sky had speech for me that communicated beauty connected to goodness and love from the creator. Despite the tremendous energy and motions from the subatomic particles to galaxies in the sky, their relative immutability quieted my soul in the sea of social, personal, and hormonal upheaval of the times around me. They were like friends who always show up at the appointed times. I like to believe that God made me to enjoy them and to enlarge my sense of place, peace, beauty and love which they did at night, as the Drifters sang, “for free.”

When I paused, and looked up, they helped me then. Now when I pause, and look up they help us now. I say us because my wife, Sharon, enjoys them too! Delighting in the stars is something we share together. In fact, looking at the moon together July 31, 1971 sort of jump-started our relationship. (I know the date because we were looking for Apollo 16 astronauts. It also involved weeds, soybeans, another guy, a prairie sunset, milkshakes, and Creature Features, but that is another story.)

What’s my point here? Do me two favors. One, go somewhere dark and please pause… Look up at the expanse of the sky. If you can’t get away, just sit back and close your eyes and imagine the sky, the moon, a sunset at twilight… What do you see, feel, hear? Take your time as the great show is “for free.”

Second favor? It’s pretty dark in Ukraine and Russia right now. In the midst of that darkness, pray for all combatants and perpetrators, Russian, Ukranian, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, persons to pause and look up at the darkness in safe spots, and find some light, hope, love, or peace that might lead to actions that slow and end the destruction there. There and other places in the world too. Pray for us here in the U.S. for the similar worries listed in my description of 1964, perhaps adding pandemic, economic disparity, racial equity, and the environment. Lift up your anxious thoughts, then pause, and look up again remembering God’s beauty and love. Walk in that beauty. Walk in that love. 

Judson Chubbuck
March 2022

One Comment On “look up”

  1. Beautiful, Judson! “Let me tell you now, right smack dab in the middle of town…”


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