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The Star

Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.

— T. S. Eliot, “The Journey of the Magi”

Theirs was the Age of Myth; a world where the night was not dimmed by our world wide web of lights that now obscures the stars. Their nights were lit by flaring torches, dim oil lamps, guttering candles; by the phases of the moon and the broad shimmering river of the Milky Way. As the sun declined and night ascended, life withdrew into shuttered and barred homes. Only the very rich or the very poor were abroad in the dark.

The night sky, now so thin and distant, so seldom really seen by us, was to them as thick and close as a slab of coal studded with buckshot diamonds. They could turn it in their mind’s eye even as it turned above them. They reclined on their hillsides, their roofs, or in rooms built for viewing and marking the moon and the stars. They watched it all revolve above them and sang the centuries down. They remembered. They kept records and told tales. They saw beings in the heavens — gods and animals, giants and insects, all sparking the origins of myth — and they knew that in some way all was connected to all; as above, so below, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. They studied the patterns of Creation and from those repeating patterns fashioned our first science, astrology.

And, like all our other celebrated sciences since, they looked to astrology to give them hints about the future, about what they should do, what they should expect, what they should become. They looked to their science then, as many look to Science now, to remove their doubt.

In time stronger, more intricately argued sciences would rise upon the structures of the proto-sciences of astrology and alchemy; sciences that chained demons with data. These new data-based sciences would push those first sciences into the realm of myth, speculation, superstition, and popular fantasy. And, as it is with our advertising, promise, big promise, is the soul of our brave new sciences.

The new sciences, you see, are much, much more about “Reality” than the old sciences. Surely they will never be tossed aside like so many playthings of mankind’s youth. The authority of our astronomy, our biology, our physics, our chemistry, and others is, we fervently believe, as certain as the pole star. Unlike astrology and alchemy, they will never be questioned; they will be built upon.

It is a central tenet of our faith in science that the new will encompass the old in one endless and eternal conservation of sense and sensibility. In this cathedral, we worship a database. We can see outward to the edge of what is, and downward into time was to (almost) the moment of Creation. We can see inward into (almost) the mute heart of matter. We have the proven method. We have the hard evidence. We know that nothing is, in time, beyond our knowing. All doubt has been removed. We are the Alpha and Omega. Our science is now as eternal and as deeply grounded in truth as… well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

Somewhere around 5 B.C. three of the world’s leading astronomers/astrologers noticed something unusual in the sky. It could have been a comet. It could have been a supernova. It could have been a rare conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Whatever it was, it was strange enough for them to travel toward it. Or so it is said. Or so it is written. Or so it is remembered from the time of myth.

Myth or history? What is the reality of this road trip towards an obscure birth in a wretched town, during a not very pleasant passage in history, over 2,000 years in our past?

We do not know. We cannot know. As it is in so much else that we ignore it is not given to us to know.

We have only shards of pottery and fragments of texts snatched from desert caves or teased out of the soil with tin trowels and brushes. We have only the sifted detritus of history; a global jigsaw puzzle where ninety-nine percent of the pieces have long gone to dust.

Our past is a handful of ashes. It is beyond our gift to ever know the difference between an inspiring folk tale and the eyewitness accounts of something that, even today, would occupy the realm of the miraculous. For today, in the realm of the mysteries, we no longer have any time for the good or the beautiful; we have no time for miracles. We have only time for denigration.

In 2004 Time and Newsweek, endeavored, in their ham-fisted way, to gin up some circulation with articles that purported to “examine” the miracles surrounding the intersection of the Divine with a world now buried two millennia deep in the ash of the Earth. We shall probably see the same sort of thing this year. The cheapening of the spirit in this culture,” the expense of reason in a waste of shame,” by those whose lamp of the soul burns low, is now as predictable as the winter solstice.

In the manner of these mind-numbing and soul-destroying publications, and the habits of the sodden intellects that grind them out for small silver, a lot of time was spent on the “question” of the Virginity of Mary, the mother of Christ. It’s a scurrilous bit of work. A “hit piece” on Mary, in the jargon of the magazine trade. For all the preening of these publications, the articles were just two chunks of thinly veiled anti-Christian porn, sops to secular hedonists in search of a cheap thrill by imbibing another hit of their favorite pap. These kinds of magazine articles always strike a chord of sadness in me, because I know at last the true cost of creating them. They are a curious kind of self-damnation in life, and, as a result, a waste of life.

Beneath all the buffed prose and appeals to experts and phoned-in quotes from scholars, the articles rose to little more than the coarse chortling of fraternity boys in the early drunken hours of the morning: “A virgin? Right! Sure. Any wife’d tell her husband that if she suddenly…”

In the offices of Time and Newsweek, there is no room for wonder beyond the fact that, for fewer people every passing year, they are still publishing and still making payroll. So far. Anything else, anything that might have within it the spark of the divine, is fit for nothing except denigration. This belief squats at the cold dead center of their editorial philosophy, a philosophy they share with untold millions of our coarsened fellow citizens. And still, they cannot comprehend why year after year, no matter how cheap they price their subscriptions, their circulation continues to decline. In none of their editorial meetings do any of those attending look about them and declare that they have become “an alien people clutching their gods” in a land that finds them more and more dispensable.

We will leave them in their conference rooms high above the Avenue of the Americas, and wish them a “Happy Holiday. Have a good one.” It is far more interesting to ponder, instead, those ancient ancestors who had no doubts that what they had seen in the heavens was unusual enough to travel.

In 5 B.C. “travel” was not something undertaken lightly. It involved, across distances that would seem trivial today, risks of life and death at every turn. It required wealth and endurance. Few traveled for pleasure. Traveling at all required a motivation far beyond the ordinary. So, at the very least, while we cannot know what was in the sky in those days, we can be certain it was something very unusual.

In his short story, “The Star,” Arthur C. Clarke’s Jesuit narrator of the far future discovers the remnants of a civilization destroyed by a violent nova so that its light might announce the birth of Christ on Earth. The story has that ironic twist that is popular with authors and pleasing to readers. I remember it as making an impression on me when I was around 12 years old. But the story does not age well because the science of it, like all science, does not age well. The story is just 53 years old.

In 1957, when I was twelve years old, we all lived in a far smaller universe with far fewer stars for God to destroy by way of cosmic birth announcements. Now that the inventory of His stars has increased a billion-fold, I think it is safe to say He could have found one to suit His purpose that didn’t involve destroying a blameless alien race. He could simply pick one deeper in the field and, well, ramp up the photons. That sort of thing is just an afterthought once You’ve got omnipotence. It might even do double duty if You could use a star in an area that might need a few more heavy elements across the next brief one or two billion years of Your plan.

Sages and mystics, Eliot and Clarke, and a host of others have all had their turns with the story of The Star. In the end, it remains what it was when it began, a story. The story of a road trip by three astrologers, kings, wise men. A journey by men who saw something special in the heavens and determined to follow it wherever it led, no matter what the cost.

To see something special. To see something beyond yourself and your imaginings. To follow it wherever it leads. To always remain prepared for miracle. That is the inner music of the story of The Star. Like all stories that survive, it is the music of the heart and not of the head, and like the heart, it will endure.

“Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.”

To have “evidence and no doubt.” That is what those that put themselves forward as our “wise men” seem to propose to us day after day from their sterile rooms high above the avenues. They have the “data” from which we should derive, they insist, doubt about all that for which they have no evidence, no data.

First and foremost in their blinded vision is their iron requirement that we should doubt the original myths that have made us and sustained us as individuals and as a people across the centuries. In their pointless world, they would have us cast off the old myths and embrace their “new and improved myths — complete with evidence;” myths made of purposeless matter “hovering in the dark.”

And seeing what these “wise men” have become, seeing who and what they are we turn. We turn away.

Instead, every year a bit more it seems, a tide has shifted in the hearts of men and we turn like a lodestone to the deeper myths of the human heart; that place where The Star will always shine — always within and yet always beyond us. In the end, the Mystery is the Gift.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kathryn December 15, 2017, 6:36 AM

    Wonderful and thank you.

  • Jewel December 15, 2017, 7:52 AM

    As I grow older the number of mysteries grows, too. I find that comforting, the Unknown.

  • Celtichorse December 15, 2017, 8:26 AM

    Because they believed that what the star shone its light on was a way to what lay behind the star, they were called wise. What shall we be called who believe there is nothing behind the star, and it shines on nothing?

  • Everyman December 15, 2017, 8:28 AM

    Your insights have remained undimmed, perhaps because of your taste from the cup of mortality in recent years. I thank you, not for the first time, for sharing them with us.

  • Shuffleboard December 15, 2017, 10:16 AM

    Having briefly faced my own mortality recently, I have the atheist-in-a-foxhole’s new respect for what lives beyond life.
    Yes, thank you.

  • Uncle Max December 15, 2017, 10:29 AM

    Outstanding piece. Thank you.

  • Uncle Max December 15, 2017, 10:47 AM

    link to archive .. TS Eliot’s poem read aloud by Eliot himself.. 3 min. Excellent.

  • LT December 15, 2017, 1:34 PM

    Beautiful. And sadly true, from first word to last. You have an amazing ability with language, but it’s your insight that makes the difference. Thanks and Merry Christmas.

  • Howard Nelson December 15, 2017, 8:13 PM

    His story tells of three magi, and a child come to save us.
    The Star they followed, for a great gift offered all, was a herald.
    And in our own time we can recognize the fourth magus
    For among us dwells the gift-giver, the up-lifter, Gerald.

  • Howard Nelson December 15, 2017, 8:20 PM

    Gerard intended, Gerald poetic license also for rambling rhyming.
    Bless you all! Yes,you too.

  • Dis December 16, 2017, 2:33 AM

    There is s short New Twilight Zone episode called THE STAR and based on the short Arthur C. Clarke story cited above, starring veteran actors Fritz Weaver and Donald Moffat. I commend it to you and your readers, as it is a much better rendition and resolution of that story. I have finallty found the ending via a Youtube clip, and have transcribed the poem cited towards the end of the clip for my own benefit; it is very moving, and I further commend that to you as well…

  • Suburbanbanshee December 16, 2017, 8:50 AM

    But it’s important that it was a historical event that really happened, not just a “skillful myth.” That’s the real scandal of it, throughout time, and especially for people who think they are better than God. That God should exist and do stuff on particular days, and become a human baby that drinks His mother’s milk and does His intestinal business, is a worse scandal than that He should become a normal person or a Jew. (Possibly not as bad a scandal as that His mom was a virgin and His family stayed intact, because that all offends against the idol-god of meaningless sex and breaking up.)

  • Jaynie December 17, 2017, 10:24 AM

    Wonderful essay, Mr Vanderleun. I recall, as a child in the 1950s, faith was a fact of life. It is hard on a soul to have become adult during the fading of faith. So your beautiful essay provides some happy buoyancy to a soul such as mine during Advent. Thank you kindly.

  • Terry December 16, 2018, 10:11 AM

    Thank you Gerard.

  • Gray December 16, 2018, 3:16 PM

    Suburbanbanshee, Yes Indeed!

    For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

  • DAN December 16, 2018, 6:09 PM

    sad state of affairs, up here in B.C. one is hard pressed to find any CHRISTMAS CARD that isn’t totally vapid, P.C. don’t want to offend any new arrivals. hope all’s well with your mom, MERRY CHRISTMAS & damn the pc thought police! DAN

  • Kristin December 17, 2018, 5:09 AM

    This Christmas we have our own new little star with us, our brand new granddaughter Stella Maris.
    The wonder of new life we so deservedly need.
    A Merry Christmas to you Gerard Van der Leun, special thoughts to your mother, a major star in your life.

    • Dirk December 15, 2021, 12:02 PM

      Kristen, congratulations, their is no finer gift then the gift of life. Cherish the ground lil Stella walks on. She will bring you eternal joy forever !


  • Donald Sensing December 17, 2018, 7:13 AM

    Always a great read, Gerard! Thank you once again!

    Actually, though, science does have quite a lot of very useful – and confirming – information about the star of Bethlehem, which I wrote about in some detail a couple of years ago.

  • Mary Ann December 17, 2018, 7:22 AM

    “To always remain prepared for miracle.”

  • Stephanie December 17, 2018, 7:35 AM

    And this part…”To see something special. To see something beyond yourself and your imaginings. To follow it wherever it leads. To always remain prepared for miracle. That is the inner music of the story of The Star. Like all stories that survive, it is the music of the heart and not of the head, and like the heart, it will endure.”
    The heart endures; “the dude abides”. And if anyone embodies in real life the so-called dude, for me, you are running in first place. Have a great day!

  • Larry Jones December 17, 2018, 10:49 AM

    Thank You Gerard! I can always count on you to brighten my day, to lift my spirit and make me think. God Bless….I hope your pain eases some these days and may you and yours have the Merriest Christmas possible.

  • JiminAlaska December 17, 2018, 1:04 PM

    Intimations of mortality.

    Before hopping over here to thoroughly enjoy ‘The Star”, I’d just read the article in the Washington Examiner; “Men die on the job more often than women, but no one cares”. After reading it I was commenting on the article and thinking about, remembering, the number of times, quite a few actually, when taking a few lucky steps is the only reason I avoided death or dismemberment.

    While I was writing, my daughter, at work up on the North Slope, called to say that a friend just called her tell to offer his condolences as he’s just heard that I died and he was so sorry, I was such a good guy, etc., etc.

    It’s occurrences such as this that keeps me convinced there’s more twix heaven and earth & He (God) has a great sense of humor.

  • Kevin Dickson December 18, 2018, 9:07 AM

    Really nice piece. Loved it.

  • Eskyman December 19, 2018, 12:56 PM

    Thank you Gerard. That was something I needed to read.

    The light that shines so brightly in you dispels my darkness. May you and yours have a Merry Christmas indeed!

  • rabbit tobacco December 17, 2019, 12:33 PM

    God has 2 books: The Holy Bible &

  • Ralph Kinney Bennett December 17, 2020, 5:29 AM

    Merry Christmas Gerard! And thanks again. Still sublime. Of course we can only infer that there were three “astronomers/astrologers” who journeyed to Bethlehem. Nowhere are they numbered in Scripture, only identified with the Greek plural magoi. The inference is perhaps based on the “Wise Men’s” providential gifts —gold, frankincense, myrrh — which must have financed Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt with the infant Jesus, thus escaping Herod’s slaughter. Whether it’s fresh insights or dipping into “Golden Oldies,” your your writing continues to engender envious accolades from this old scribbler. Thank you, and again for you and all your readers, Merry Christmas!

  • Bear Claw Chris Lapp December 17, 2020, 7:31 AM

    As a child I looked to the heavens in wonderment. As an adult I still look to the heavens in wonderment. The signs were in the heavens. It is said there are current signs in the heavens. Two heavenly bodies will become one soon. Is it a reminder I hope so. It is called faith. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe. God Bless Gerard hope your holidays are happy and bright.

  • Randall R Bridges December 17, 2020, 7:37 AM

    These words are the elements of which Stars are born.

  • Terry December 17, 2020, 8:15 AM

    This year with the current upheaval in progress, this piece by Gerard has even more of an up lifting effect on my being. It goes straight to my heart.

    Merry Christmas to all-

  • James ONeil December 17, 2020, 9:00 AM

    No. No I say to the media, our Tech Lords, the ‘esteemed’ elite, it is not canceled!

    Merry Christmas!

  • Andrew R December 17, 2020, 1:01 PM

    Thanks. I needed that.

  • gwbnyc December 17, 2020, 3:38 PM
  • Willyruffian December 17, 2020, 5:38 PM

    I sent this to my kids.

  • Ron December 17, 2020, 6:22 PM

    There’s compelling evidence that the Star of Bethlehem was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC: http://www.astro.rug.nl/~vdkruit/jea3/homepage/beth.pdf

  • Auntie Analogue December 17, 2020, 8:00 PM


    Because it’s good for the soul.

    Thank you, Mr. Van der Leun.

  • Jane December 14, 2021, 5:52 PM

    I have been reading your posts for several years now and have never said thank you. You have a lovely group of commenters that I enjoy, but hadn’t joined. Let me repent, in this appropriate season, and say “Thank you”. You inspire, comfort, lift, and add to the joy in my life.

  • Dan K. December 14, 2021, 5:57 PM

    Wise men still seek Him.

  • Kevin in PA December 14, 2021, 6:03 PM

    Thank you again for this is my very favorite from you. As I revealed in my personal email message a couple of years ago, this short piece really struck a nerve with me….and it still does.
    Merry Christmas to you and all AD readers.

  • Dan K. December 14, 2021, 6:13 PM

    Why must they be “astrologers” and not “astronomers”?

    Human calendars are notoriously unreliable and variable things.

    The stars and planets, though, are consistent, and have purpose.

    “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.”

    What our astronomers have discovered (certainly not “invented”) is the ability to advance, and, historically, rewind the heavens.

    Interesting things happened in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin) in 3BC.

    Not that it matters.

    We have thousands of years of written predictions. We have eye witnesses. We have written testimony. We have The Birth. We have the babe in a manger, just as it was written hundreds of years earlier. We have men and women who were there to see and handle the baby.

    Moreover, we have the Life. We have the Death. We have the Resurrection.

    We have further eyewitnesses *in history* that within our grasp, who simply stated, “Have you heard? He rose from the dead, just as He said.”

    All that remains is the simplest of acts, something that needs no wealth, no highborn status, no exceptional intelligence, no particular ethnicity: do you believe it? Did He rise from the dead?

    The Star was indeed a herald of something Great.

    Where is your faith?

    • Mike Austin December 15, 2021, 6:26 AM

      “Why must they be “astrologers” and not “astronomers”?” The three men were called Magi, which meant astrologers, magicians and those with hidden knowledge. (Matthew 2:1)

      “Did he rise from the dead?” If He did not, then Christianity is nonsense. (1 Corinthians 15 – 18)

      “Where is my faith?” It encompasses my entire life, my entire soul, my past, present and future. Yours too.

  • Joan of Argghh! December 14, 2021, 7:30 PM

    Every year, I love this more: “To see something special. To see something beyond yourself and your imaginings. To follow it wherever it leads. ”
    I feel that way about every star, every soaring mountain, any vast ocean: I cannot make one of them. And neither can any wise man. Man cannot make a mountain, or an ocean, or a star… and this leads me to the One who already has– whose mysterious joy in creating worlds is beyond my ken, but tugs at the slow-witted feet of my soul to follow.

  • Dirk December 15, 2021, 8:45 AM

    Wonderful, by chance did you catch the comet last week. One point off of the big dippers last tail star?.

    Was able to view it six out of seven days.. up at 0300, my old golden needs a pee break, I stand on our deck in 8 degree temp, naked to the world, and marvel at what surrounds us.

    Was surprised at just how vivid the comet was, I would pretend for ten minutes that I could actually see it moving. “ not really” she’s headed right at us. Once this comet passes, never to be seen again by anybody alive presently.

    I love being alive in these times, where one simply has to look outward to understand, NOTHING happening in our world is as important as what’s not happening in the cosmos. “ We are not alone”.


  • Mike Austin December 15, 2021, 11:02 AM

    “Modern Man” likes to proclaim that his Age is the culmination of everything that came before it; that it encompasses the finest of all human achievement. He looks around and sees techno-wizardry and marvels at such machinery. His error—and he makes many errors—is his belief that such things are an example of culture, of high civilization. They are not. They are a sign of degradation, of slavery.

    One common boast is that his iPhone is more powerful than the computers that sent men to the moon. Perhaps so, but what of it? And just what does this “Modern Man” do with such a phenomenal device? He babbles with strangers, views porn videos and plays games. That’s it. Quite the accomplishments!

    Modern Man and all of his contraptions cannot create or even recapture the sense of the marvelous, the wonderment, the awe, that a child sees everywhere until his slavery by a machine. Once that happens there is no longer time or patience for Three Magi, for Bethlehem’s Star, for a Virgin giving birth. There is no longer any time or patience for Myth.

    A star over Bethlehem becomes a mere celestial event easily explained by astronomers. A Virgin birth becomes an impossibility, and is really just a story to explain away a girl’s infidelity. And the Three Magi? Madmen all. Who in God’s name would travel 1000 miles to give presents to an unknown and newborn child?

    So let us then abandon our stories of bright stars appearing in the Middle East, of virgins having children, and of misled gift-giving strangers. No more such nonsense. We are too busy babbling with strangers, viewing porn videos and playing games.

  • Jack December 12, 2022, 6:22 AM

    Wonderful article GVL and perfect for a re-read.

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