Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Unknown Treasure

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 30, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The old woman sat quietly in her kitchen as she ate her breakfast. Thoughts and memories from ninety years of life pressed in on her as she looked around the room. There were so many memories in this house. The pretty young French girl who had seen firsthand the horrors of war gave way to a strong resilient woman. But now her body was failing her, and she would no longer be able to stay alone in the house that she loved. How would she be able to let it go?

La tartine, a quarter baguette sliced horizontally and toasted, was on the small table in front of her. She spread butter on the tartine absent-mindedly and reached for the sour orange marmalade. She would spread marmalade on one piece of tartine, but she would save the other piece to "dunk" into her cafĂ© au lait. This was her breakfast almost every morning. 

As she sat there, deep in thought, her eyes rested on the miniature painting hanging above the hotplate in her kitchen. For many years, she had looked at the tiny eight by ten painting depicting a scene from Christ's passion and crucifixion every day as she prepared her meals. She thought it was an old knockoff of a medieval painting, but she liked it, and it gave her comfort. It reminded her of her faith and what Jesus had suffered for her.

Today the appraiser from the auction house will be meeting with her. She knew that she would have to sell her house and many of her belongings, but tears welled up in her eyes as her emotions wrapped around her. The thought of leaving her home of so many years was devastating. How could she leave so many memories? Why did life have to be so complicated?

When the appraiser from the auction house arrived, she walked through the house, making notes. When she saw the miniature painting hanging in the kitchen above the hotplate, she was intrigued. Art wasn't her area of expertise, but she suggested bringing the painting to experts and performing a series of tests using infrared light to determine its age and worth. She told the old woman, "If it is as old as I think, your painting may be worth more than 100,000 dollars.

Specialists at the Turquin gallery in Paris initially examined the painting and concluded it was around 700 years old. Further tests indicated that the painting was by the famous pre-Renaissance Italian painter Cimabue. The piece is part of a series of paintings created in 1280, depicting Christ's crucifixion. Cimabue is widely considered the forefather of the Italian Renaissance. He broke from the Byzantine style popular in the Middle Ages and began to incorporate elements of movement and perspective that came to characterize Western painting. 

The painting's discovery sent ripples of excitement through the art world. Philomène Wolf, the auctioneer who discovered the painting, recounted, "I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it. You rarely see something of such quality." She continued, "I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn't imagine it was a Cimabue." 

The auction house estimated the sale price of the painting to be 4 million to 6 million dollars. But when the hammer came down and the painting was sold, the final price was over 26 million dollars. Dominique Le Coent of Acteon Auction House, who sold the masterpiece to an anonymous buyer, said the sale represented a "world record for a primitive, or a pre-1500 work. It's a painting that was unique, splendid, and monumental. Cimabue was the father of the Renaissance. But this sale goes beyond all our dreams." Experts were off the mark because it was the first time a Cimabue had ever gone under the hammer. "There's never been a Cimabue painting on sale, so there was no reference previously on how much it could make," Le Coent explained. "When a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises."

I'm sure that the morning the old woman reminisced as she ate her breakfast and waited for the appraiser to arrive, she had no idea what was in store. She was completely unaware of the value of the simple painting hanging above her hotplate. For many years, millions of dollars were hanging on her kitchen wall. I can't imagine the emotions that ran through her when she discovered the value of the painting.

In Psalms 119:162 (NCB), David wrote, "I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure." Movies, books, and television programs about pirate treasure excite us. Pirates amassed fortunes of gold, silver, and jewels, and some of those riches still have not been found. My wife is intrigued by the mystery of Oak Island. Treasure hunters have been digging on this small Canadian island for over two hundred years, looking for pirate treasure. Many tantalizing clues have been found, but no actual treasure.

But there are far more valuable treasures than anything you can find in a buried treasure chest, sunken pirate ship, or unknowingly hanging on your wall. Those treasures are in the Bible. "Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Psalms 119:72 (NCV) If you are like most English-speaking people, you probably already own at least one Bible. A 2015 survey commissioned by the American Bible Society found that 88 percent of Americans own at least one Bible, and 79 percent consider the Bible sacred or holy. About 36 percent of those surveyed said they read the Bible at least once per week. 

However, merely owning a Bible is not enough. Even though most Americans own one or more Bibles, their knowledge of Scripture is sadly lacking. A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center demonstrated that only 45 percent of Americans knew the names of the four Gospels. 

Gentle Reader, you have a priceless work of art in your home. It is the Bible, and what it contains is very literally the difference between eternal life and eternal death. Don't fail to recognize the value of that one ordinary book. It's the most valuable thing you own. "My goal is that your hearts may be encouraged and strengthened. I want you to be joined together in love. Then your understanding will be rich and complete. You know the mystery of God. That mystery is Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him." Colossians 2:2,3 (NIRV) paraphrased. You have a treasure in the Bible "worth more than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Psalms 119:72 (NCV) Don't let it remain an unknown treasure.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

So Did I

My Grandpa Lawry loved to tell stories, sing, and recite poetry. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood were spending time with my Grandpa and listening to him. One of my favorite poems that he would recite is "So Did I." Recently I found a digital copy on the internet of the book, Uncle Charlie's Poems, written by Charles Noel Douglas that includes the poem. Reading "So Did I," and reminiscing about my Grandpa made me miss him.

SO DID I - Charles Noel Douglas

That long, lank dude as sparks our Sue was to the house last night,

An' talk of having fun, well, say, I thought I'd die outright.

Laugh, well, I'm a-laughing still, I guess I'll never quit;

I've only got to think, an' then I durned nigh have a fit.

He came to supper, an' we had, o' course, a dandy spread.

Sue trotted out her chocolate cake, an' Mom her fancy bread.

An’ that long dude he stuffed hisself with cake, preserves an' pie,

An' then drank sixteen cups o' tea, an' so did I.

Jim Snaggs he eat, an' eat, an' eat; my, how that dude did stuff,

Till every plate was cleared, then Jim he guessed he'd had enough.

Most folks in love don't eat at all, but Jim ain't one of such,

For he allowed love always made him eat just twice as much.

Up from his chair Jim staggered, you could almost see him swell.

He'd eat so much, how he got up that's more than I can tell.

I saw him beckon Sue, an' she just answered with her eye,

Then to the parlor off they sneaked, an' so did I.

They made for that old settee in the corner by the door,

An' I crawled in an' hid behind, where oft I hid before.

An' then I heard him whisper: "Sue, just let me give you one!"

An' Sue, she said: "Jim, if you do, I'll get right up an' run”

An' then she giggled foolish-like; you know how young folks spark

A-fore the parlor lamp is lit, an' things is kind 'er dark.

Well, Jim he kissed her good an' hard, an' Sue, she said: "Oh, fie,”

Then jabbed her fist in Jim Snagg's neck, an' so did I.

I bobbed down quick, Jim didn't see, for love, you know, is blind;

An' then with cord I started in Jim's swell coat-tails to bind.

He'd on his new Prince Albert, for Jim was quite a card,

An', 'fore you knew a thing, I'd got him tied up good an' hard,

An' 'neath the settee then I crawled, an' laid flat on the floor,

With Sue's steel hatpin in my band, six inches long, or more.

Then, just as Jim was kissing Sue, I jabbed it in his thigh;

He yelled an' rolled in fourteen fits, an' so did I.

You should have seen the circus, when that pin got busy - you

Must know Jim hit the ceiling, an' the settee went there, too,

An' 'round the room he dragged it, like a mule hitched to a truck,

Till both his coat-tails they tore off, an' Jim just cussed his luck.

An' stamped an' yelled till all the folks rushed headlong through the door

An' stumbled over Sue, who lay unconscious on the floor.

Pop dashed right off for water; say, you should have seen him fly;

He soused ten buckets in Sue's face, an' so did I.

At last they got Sue on a chair, poor gal, she couldn't stand,

While Jim stood there an' rubbed hisself, a coat-tail in each hand.

An' Sue no sooner saw him than she started in to grin,

Then flopped down on the floor, an' chucked another fit again.

We soused her "to" with water, then an argument arose

Just as to what old animal had bit Jim through his clothes.

Sue guessed a snake, Ma said she thought 'twas lightning from the sky,

But, last, they blamed it on the cat, an' so did I.


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Hit and Miss

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 23, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The baby blue sky and the warmth of the sun pushing away the cool of the morning lifted my spirits. The cold, damp dismal weather of the previous day was a thing of the past as I looked forward to the promise of spring. "Today will be awesome," I thought as I prepared for our outing to the Jonquil Festival in Old Washington. 

As we drove south out of the Ouachita's into the flat land of Southern Arkansas, the changes were noticeable. The pastures and roadsides were green, and many homes along the road had patches of bright yellow daffodils. Spring was already making its mark, with the white blossoms of wild plum and serviceberry trees dotting the landscape. The soft glow of green tinged trees promised the glory of rebirth as their buds opened and tiny new leaves unfurled.

When we reached Old Washington, traffic came to a standstill. Thousands of people had converged on the small town. Vendors had set up booths around the old courthouse, and people crowded into the area. After looking around the festival area, we headed into the old part of town, where it seemed that jonquils filled every yard. Each bloom seemed to be lifting its head to the heavens and trying to soak up the sun's rays.

Old tractors and collector cars filled an open field a few blocks from the courthouse. As I was walking around looking at the vehicles, I heard "PUTT whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh PUTT whoosh whoosh whoosh PUTT" The sound was coming from an engine, but it was bizarre. There was no definite rhythm to the sound. I investigated and found a row of trailers with antique stationary engines on them. The unusual sounds they made were the result of their design. The engine fires and then coasts until the speed decreases, and it needs to fire again to maintain its average speed.

These engines are called hit and miss engines because they don't fire or "hit" on every rotation. The engines misfire by design. When stationary engines were first designed in the late 1800s, the technical problem inventors needed to solve to make engines usable was how to keep the engine running steadily under varying loads. Your foot on the gas pedal does that in your car, but a stationary engine needs automated speed control. The solution for most manufacturers was the centrifugal governor.

These machines use ingenious and complex governors developed to maintain a constant speed as the loads vary. Most hit-and-miss engines had a horizontal piston with two heavy flywheels connected to the ends of the crankshaft. If the motor was spinning at the desired speed, the exhaust valve was held open, and there was no compression and no engine firing, creating the "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh" sound as the piston idled back and forth, pushing air in and out of the cylinder through the open exhaust valve.

As the wheel's rotation slowed, the weight was drawn toward the center of the wheel, where it nudged a lever that closed the exhaust valve. The piston created a suction that opened the intake valve and drew in the fuel/air mixture with the exhaust valve shut. The engine emitted one loud "PUTT" as the power stroke spun the flywheel faster. The faster spin caused centrifugal force to move the weight toward the flywheel's rim again, which canceled firing until it slowed, and the weight was drawn back down and the cycle repeated. Under heavy load, it would fire on every other stroke. It would fire every sixth or eighth stroke when it was just idling.

The first engines appeared about 1890, but by the early 20th century, the number of manufacturers was in the hundreds. These engines cost up to 200 dollars, but almost every farm had one or two by 1910. Although called stationary, the machines were almost always mounted on iron wheeled dollies that could be moved to different places on the farm. For the first time, mechanical power was available to the small-scale farm. 

With these engines came a parade of new applications: feed grinders, corn shellers, wood saws, water pumps, and fodder cutters became available. Marketed specifically for the ladies were small, one-half horsepower engines to power washing machines, butter churns, even ice cream makers. By the 1930s, hit and miss engines fell out of favor as lighter, more powerful designs became available, and most farms had access to electricity.

Today these engines are prized by collectors who lovingly restore them to perfect running order to show them at historical fairs and festivals like the one in Old Washington. People are fascinated by the ingeniously complicated mechanical works exposed to view. The piston, connecting rod, driveshaft, and flywheel are all open to view as they run. And that PUTT whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh PUTT sound is so alluring.

As I watched and listened to the engines running, I thought about things in my life that are hit and miss. One of those things is my relationship with God. I attempt to create routine and consistency in my life, but I often sacrifice my time with God for consistency in other areas. I become a hit and miss Christian.

Jesus tells us, "Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me." John 15:4 (VOICE) To abide is to continue in a place, remain stable, and be consistent. Abiding is simply spending time together, day in and day out. A relationship can't thrive when it is hit and miss.

Gentle Reader, consistency is the key to close relationships in our everyday lives and our spiritual lives. Find time to be alone. Set aside time to spend with God every day without distractions. James 4:8 (ICB) says, "come near to God, and God will come near to you. You are sinners. So clean sin out of your lives. You are trying to follow God and the world at the same time." Come near to God. Abide in Him. Don't try to follow God and the world at the same time. Don't be a hit and miss Christian.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Silence is Golden

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 16, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The cold wind seeped through my clothes and sent shivers through me. The beautiful weather of the day before had turned into a windy reminder that winter wasn't quite finished. As I worked installing a windshield in a large truck, my fingers were so cold that I had difficulty hanging on to things. The truck was far too big to go inside my shop, so I did the job outside. Once I finished, I was happy that my next windshield installation would be inside. 

As I was working in the relative warmth of my shop, I heard a slight pinging on my metal roof. Before long, the sparse pinging turned into a deafening roar. I walked outside to see driving sleet beating down on everything. Sleet powdered the ground and was beginning to pile up. The sleet came as if the weather was in a tentative mood, unable to decide whether to give us freezing rain or snow. Stuck in a moment of indecisiveness, halfway between rain and snow, Mother Nature showered ice pellets down from the sky. The constant drumming on the roof was so loud that it was hard to hear on the phone. 

As the din of the sleet beating on the roof settled down to a level that allowed conversation, I breathed a sigh of relief. The deafening intensity of the sleet made me edgy and uneasy. But as the racket softened into a gentle tapping on the roof, my restlessness gave way to peacefulness. The muffled sounds were comforting after the earlier intensity of the storm. Before long, the sounds of sleet completely disappeared.

The next time I walked outside, a picture-perfect postcard scene greeted me. The air was thick with a snowy softness drifting down from the clouds. The snowflakes were so large that it almost seemed like cotton balls falling from the sky. As the large fluffy clumps of snow floated down and covered everything in a soft blanket of white, I was intrigued by the contrast of the beautiful, quiet, and peaceful snowflakes with the harsh, loud, stinging balls of sleet that had fallen just a short time ago. 

The following day, I woke up to a beautiful white landscape. As I walked outside, the stillness and peacefulness of the scene filled me with tranquility. The snow rested on my backyard as if it were a feather comforter, soft and warm. It covered everything in perfect white. Have you ever noticed how peaceful it seems after a snowfall? It is not just your mind playing tricks on you. Snow does make the world quieter.

There is science behind the peacefulness and quiet of a snowy landscape. That is because snow absorbs sound, so when a fresh blanket of snow covers the landscape, it absorbs many of the sound waves, making it quieter outside. The reason snow absorbs sound is because it is porous. Snowflakes are six-sided crystals filled with open spaces. Those spaces absorb sound waves in a blanket of snow, creating a quieting effect.

As I surveyed the peaceful scene, a song from my childhood ran through my mind. One of my favorite groups was The Tremeloes, and their song, "Silence is Golden," played in my head. "Talking is cheap people follow like sheep, even though there is nowhere to go." And the chorus seemed to fit, "silence is golden, but my eyes still see. Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see."

As I looked out over the quiet peacefulness of the snow-covered landscape in the early morning, with the refrain, "silence is golden," still invading my mind like an earworm, I thought about the noise of the world around me. These are disturbing times, and it seems like people are yelling and shouting at you wherever you go, literally and figuratively. I don't like the noise, but "am I contributing to the cacophony," I wonder? 

Although the authorship of the quotation is unclear, there is a proverb that I am sure you have heard before. "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." People generally get into more trouble by talking too much than saying too little. Shakespeare wrote, "Discretion is the better part of valor." A country song makes the point with the line, "You say it best when you say nothing at all."

Silence can be the best thing when others do not have good intentions or use manipulative tactics. One of the most powerful testimonies Jesus ever gave was his silence to Herod. Herod was the only person in the Gospels to whom Jesus did not respond when addressed. 

You can read the story in Luke 23:8-10 (VOICE). "Herod was fascinated to meet Jesus, for he had heard about Him for a long time. He was hoping he might be treated to a miracle or two. He interrogated Jesus for quite a while, but Jesus remained silent, refusing to answer his questions. Meanwhile, the chief priests and religious scholars had plenty to say—angrily hurling accusations at Jesus."

It is clear from the text that Herod was delighted at the opportunity to meet Jesus. He was hoping to see some spectacular supernatural feat. Jesus stood there, badgered by Herod's questions while the priests simultaneously accused him. Despite the harassment, in the words of the old spiritual, "He never said a mumblin' word."

Jesus' refusal to respond to Herod's questions and harassment seems counter-intuitive, but it revealed Herod's moral and intellectual bankruptcy. Leaders should stand for principle, reasoned positions, and fair process. They show their true colors when they engage in vicious attacks. By contrast, Jesus distinguished himself by his silence in the face of scorn. Herod had killed John the Baptist for speaking the truth, making it clear that he wasn't interested in the facts.

Gentle Reader, In the day of "send" buttons and social media posts and replies, Jesus' silent treatment of Herod is still wise. I have too often regretted things I have said. Engaging in bitter debates only adds to the noise and cacophony of life. "Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God." Romans 12:17-19 (NLT) Instead of going through life as a sleet storm, let's resolve to be a soft blanket of snow that leaves the world around us quieter and more peaceful. Sometimes, silence is golden.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Tulip Mania

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 9, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Last week's sunshine and warm temperatures signaled that spring would be arriving soon. Daffodils are blooming, and their bright yellow faces, reaching towards the sun, make me smile. From the first thoughts of spring, daffodil blossoms prophesy that winter will soon be over and better days are coming. While daffodils are some of the earliest flowers to bloom, Tulips are not far behind. This weekend I saw my first tulip, a deep scarlet red, announcing that many more tulips would be arriving soon.

One of my favorite springtime activities is to visit Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs during the peak tulip viewing times. Garvan Woodland Gardens are beautiful any time of the year, but I think that the tulip season is quite possibly the best. Walkways lined with the spectacular sight of over 150,000 breathtaking tulips in a wide variety of colors cover the gardens. 

When the Turks discovered tulips in the mountains of Kazakhstan, they were very impressed with their beauty. Some tulips were brought to present-day Turkey and planted in the gardens of the most influential people in the Ottoman Empire. In the 16th century, Constantinople was known for its beautiful gardens, where many people admired the flowers. Rare and valuable tulips were grown in the interior gardens of the Sultan's palace.

A Flemish merchant was unintentionally one of the first to introduce the tulip to northern Europe in 1562. Among the bales of cloth he had purchased in Constantinople, he found a package of tulip bulbs. Ignorant of their identity, he roasted them and ate them for supper. The rest he planted in his garden next to the cabbages. When the tulips bloomed in the spring, the botanist Clusius was impressed by the vibrant red and yellow flowers. He recognized their importance, growing, studying, and giving bulbs to fellow horticulturalists. In 1593, Clusius came to teach at Leiden University in the Dutch Republic and brought his vast tulip collection.

Soon, tulips became popular in Leiden, and their popularity spread throughout Dutch culture. Many paintings began to feature tulips, and merchants held festivals to show off new varieties. Tulips became so popular that they created the first economic bubble, known as "Tulip Mania."

In 1634, the world's first recognized investment bubble began when Dutch speculators frantically bought tulip bulbs. The bulbs were a highly prized status symbol, and the most desirable varieties saw their value surge. Soon, prices were rising so fast that people were trading their land, life savings, and anything else they could liquidate to get more tulip bulbs. Everyone began to deal in tulip bulbs, essentially speculating on the tulip market.

From 1634 to 1637, an index of Dutch tulip prices soared from approximately one guilder per bulb to sixty guilders per bulb. By the peak of tulip mania in February of 1637, a single tulip bulb was worth about ten times a workers' annual income. The prices were not an accurate reflection of the value of a tulip bulb. With prices so high, some people decided to sell and reap their profits. A domino effect of progressively lower and lower prices occurred as everyone tried to sell while not many were buying. The price began to dive, causing people to panic and sell regardless of losses.

Many people lost everything in the Tulip Mania crash of 1637. Dealers refused to honor contracts, and people realized they had traded their homes for a tulip bulb. The government attempted to step in and halt the crash by offering to honor contracts at 10% of the face value, but then the market plunged even lower. Today, we wonder, why would anyone pay ten years' salary for a single flower bulb? 

As we look back on Tulip Mania, it all seems silly. But modern investors are not immune to market bubbles. According to, "A stock market bubble is driven by raw speculation. A bubble begins to form when there's a gathering acceleration in price for an asset that far outstrips the asset's intrinsic value. That means people are willing to pay more and more for a security or another asset, above and beyond what's expected based on things like demand, earnings, revenue or growth potential." 

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan used the term "irrational exuberance" to describe the collective enthusiasm among traders and investors that fuels rapidly increasing prices. Whether you call it the crowd mentality, herd bias, the bandwagon effect or FOMO, there is a self-perpetuating cycle where people want to buy an asset because its price is increasing, driving the price even higher and making even more people want to buy it.

Tulip Mania and other market bubbles remind me of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. "Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

Here Jesus tells us not to place too much value in the things of this world. If you treasure them as the most important things in your life, one day, you will find yourself very disappointed when they are devalued, destroyed, or stolen. Is Jesus telling us that we should not have any possessions here in this world? Of course not. But He tells us that treasures on earth are subject to being devalued, destroyed, or stolen. Treasures in heaven are secure. They are a safe investment.

Gentle Reader, the Bible says, "set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) The most significant investment we can ever make in our lives is to invest in God. No investment that we make in our life compares with the blessing of eternal life. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23 (KJV) Remember that investments may fail and the bubble may burst, "but the word of the Lord endures forever." 1 Peter 1:25 (NKJV)

Wednesday, March 2, 2022


My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 2, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was a crisp 34 degrees as I walked out of our hotel. I carefully made my way down the dark path to the parking lot. I looked up to see the inky black sky with thousands of stars embedded into the canopy like brilliant diamonds. I stopped and soaked in the eery silence before climbing into my car and starting the engine.

Today was my first morning in the Big Bend area of Texas, and I wanted to find an excellent place to watch the sunrise. I pulled out onto Highway 170 and headed northwest out of Lajitas. The road spread out in front of me like a pitch-black river, following along the banks of the Rio Grande. My headlights fought to penetrate the overwhelming darkness. Several miles down the road, I found a place to pull off the highway. A sign that read West Contrabando Trailhead pointed to a dirt road that turned off to my right. At the trailhead was an empty parking lot. I pull in and turn off the engine. 

It is hard to describe the night sky in a place with no light. The darker the night, the brighter the stars. I am miles away from any light sources, and the sky seems to expand with more and more stars. As I sit in the darkness and my eyes adjust to the velvety blackness, I see a blanket of stars stretching into infinity. The milky way rushes across the sky, looking like a bold brush stroke from the hand of a divine painter. As I look up into the night sky, countless stars and constellations seem to welcome me into their world. The serenity and quietness of the moment envelopes me. The starry night sky, with its immense canopy and brilliant pinpricks of light, seems to wrap me in comfort and peace.

“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” Vincent Van Gogh’s words describing his famous painting, “Starry Starry Night,” come to my mind. The solitude and the impressive display of the universe over my head put me in a reflective mood. I realized that David saw a night sky similar to this one when he wrote, “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Psalms 19:1 (NASB)

Before my trip to the Big Bend Area, I read about its dark skies status. According to the National Park Service, “Big Bend National Park is known as one of the outstanding places in North America for stargazing. In fact, it has the least light pollution of any other national park unit in the lower 48 states. One factor that makes this possible is simply the sparse human occupation of this region. The obvious impression one gets of wildness in the Big Bend is the lack of visible lights indicating a house or a town. Most urban areas have such an abundance of light that very few stars can be seen. Big Bend National Park is a refreshing exception.”

Today less than 10% of Americans can enjoy a view of our galaxy, the Milky Way. That means more than 90% never see a picture of the sky taken for granted for almost all human history. Stargazing has been a human pastime since ancient times. The ancients interpreted constellations and arrangements of the stars and planets that they saw in the night sky to have essential meaning for themselves and their families. This night sky view inspired countless artists, poets, musicians, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. Something about the vastness of a night sky leads to thoughts of how our universe came to be and how insignificant we are. David wrote, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalms 8:3,4 (NLT)

As I sat there, swept up in my solitude and meditating on the big questions of life, a gentle glow began appearing in the east, and the stars slowly began to fade. The faint light outlined dramatic vistas, and the few stars that remained seemed impossibly brilliant. The first light of dawn showed no color, but slowly the sky filled with yellow and orange hues. The morning light was perfect, a sort of visual silence that filled me with reverent awe. Soon there was enough light to see the rugged beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. 

There is something to be said for solitude, being alone. Solitude is different than loneliness. I don’t like being lonely. I need people around me, just not too many people. But solitude gives me a chance to recharge, reflect, and meditate. The morning I spent in Big Bend, miles away from other human beings, will always be a special memory. Some of my favorite moments are the solitude of an early morning sitting on my deck or special moments like watching a day be born in Big Bend. Mother Teresa said, “Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things, you cannot hear the voice of God. “

Most of us lead such busy lives that we never fully realize how much we need to spend time alone with our Creator. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” I know that I need moments of solitude in my life because of the example of Jesus. The Bible tells of many times that Jesus would seek solitude. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Mark 1:35 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, I would encourage you to look for moments of solitude. Even though God is all-powerful, His presence often shows up in the most gentle, loving fashion. Regardless of your situation, God cares. He wants to meet with you one-on-one and help you with your most pressing concerns. God says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him. And he will eat with me.” Revelation 3:20 (ICB) God wants to spend some quiet, alone time with you. I hope you can find time in your busy life for some solitude.