Witness to the Night Sky

The days and particularly their daylight hours have been full, so full in fact that I have done little writing this half year.  Daylight is time for walking, running errands, meeting folks for coffee, moving books into my home study, yard work, visiting elderly parents.  Meanwhile the northern hemisphere moves toward the shortest day of the year, so I make every daylight hour count.  (Backpackers notice such things.) By evening it feels like time to turn on the lamp by my chair, pick up a book and rest.

Meanwhile the nights, one after another, have been ever so slowly creeping toward the longest night of the year. I know, because  I often wake in the night to notice the faintest murmur of wind chimes, the hooting disputes of the territorial barred owls, the distant train whistling west of my bed—a seven minute warning before the engine rumbles into our neighborhood.

They are two perspectives—daylight shortened or nights lingering longer.  This year, instead of my usual mourning over the loss of daylight and resenting the darkness, I now find myself relishing the approach of the longest night.

The shift in perspective happened when I had the opportunity to attend two group spiritual direction retreats in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, once in the spring and again in the fall.  A few times I woke up in the middle of the night with moonlight and starlight pouring in through the windows.  Each time I quietly put on some warm things, crept downstairs, grabbed a blanket from the foyer basket to wrap myself up, and went outside, softly shutting the front door behind me.  One night with the flashlight, another night with only moonlight, I followed the straight mown path that climbed through an open field to a hilltop, crowned with a circle of Adirondack chairs.  The hill in turn was circled by farmland with its night noises, which again in turn was ringed by mountains on all sides behind which the moon would rise or sink.  And the sky, oh, the sky was filled with stars, the Milky Way a banner of glitter stretching over my head from one mountain ridge to another.  I watched amazed for hours and fell in love with the night and its Creator’s presence.  Having become a “witness of so much majesty,” I can’t help but welcome the winter solstice and its longest night.

I am not a poet, but Sara Teasdale was.  I recently purchased a recording (“Northern Lights,” Hyperion label) in which her poem “Stars” is set to music by Eriks Esenvalds.  For me both poem and music capture the wonder, the beauty, the spaciousness of the night sky I witnessed.  So, on a clear night may you find your way onto a hilltop far away from town lights to see this amazing gift for yourself.  Meanwhile, below is the poem and a link to Esenvlad’s setting in a live performance by the Salt Lake Choral Artists.  Enjoy it  here and celebrate the coming winter solstice.


Alone in the night

On a dark hill

With pines all around me

Spicy and still,


And a heaven full of stars

Over my head,

White and topaz

And misty red;


Myriads with beating

Hearts of fire

The aeons

Cannot vex or tire;


The dome of heaven

Like a great hill,


I know I

Am honored to be


Of so much majesty.


Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)




  1. Brenda Kiser says:

    The ringing glasses provide the perfect ethereal accompaniment to the voices.

    • Elaine Dent says:

      I couldn’t tell on the CD recording what the accompaniment was. Then searching for this post on youtube I saw all the water glasses—some choirs used more than others.

  2. Chuck Miller says:

    Thank you! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how darkness isn’t so much opposed to light, as it is the stage into which light shines. Like you, I’m learning not to approach darkness with dread but with watchful anticipation of light.

  3. Thank you for sharing Pastor Elaine. I too find the night (especially in the country) to be refreshing and rejuvenating.