I truly started to believe in God while gazing up at a starry sky in Australia.
I spent a semester abroad in Australia during the second semester of my junior year. During of our many fascinating journeys around the country, we visited a family of Aborigines in Broome, a small town located in the upper left corner of the continent. We camped overnight on a beach far from any electric lights or signs of civilization, we caught fish and giant turtle for our dinner, and cooked our meal on a campfire under a cloudless, star-filled sky.
I took a small star-gazing chart with me to Australia, so that I could recognize the unfamiliar constellations in the sky. As a child in Newburyport I could always pick out the Big and Little Dippers, the “W” of Cassiopeia, and Orion’s triple-starred belt. The sky Down Under had a new sky to explore, such as the bright Centaur, the zig-zag Hydra, and of course the Southern Cross.
The Southern Cross lets you find the South Pole star, just as the Big Dipper lets you locate the North Star. From the beach in Broome I could see both constellations in the sky – the Southern Cross pointing to the South Pole star visible above the horizon on the left, with the Big Dipper pointing to the North Star below the horizon on my right.
As the hours passed that night, I saw the movement of the sky. The sky appeared to be a great dome with the South Pole and North Star as pivot points, with the stars slowly and silently moving from the horizon to the sky above and then over my head and behind me. Their progression was nearly imperceptible but still noticeable; for the first time I could visualize the great mechanism of the stars at work. Each star was an individual piece of the grand design, all set in motion by an unseen hand, all organized into a great machinery constantly moving over my head, beneath my hands in the sand, driving the ocean and Earth and air around me just as it ordered the sky above.
Sometimes when I am thinking through a complex problem, or assembling pieces of information on a web site, or creating a collage, I get that same sense of the divine – the sense that this world is not created at random, that God is ordering everything around me.
Since then I’ve sometimes struggled with my faith, I’ve doubted if I should be a Catholic, and I’ve been hard pressed to explain my beliefs – but since that night, I’ve never doubted that there is a God.