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In Too Much Light
Jessica Powers
The Magi had one only star to follow,
a single sanctuary lamp hung low,
gold ornament in the astonished air.
I am confounded in this latter day;
I find stars everywhere.
Rumor locates the presence of a night
out past the loss of perishable sun
where, round midnight, I shall come to see
that all the stars are one.
I long for this night of the onement of stars
when days of scattered shining are my lot
and my confusion. Yet faith even here
burns her throat dry, cries: on this very spot
of mornings, see, there is not any place
where the sought Word is not.
Under and over, in and out, this morn
flawlessly, purely, wakes the newly born.
Behold, all places which have light in them
truly are Bethlehem.
This past week, the Bethlehem star has been making headlines. Again! That’s because we have the opportunity to witness conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, which means that they appear, from our perspective on planet earth, to come very together in the sky. It’s a phenomenon that happens about every twenty years, but there hasn’t been a visible alignment of the two planets this close since March 4, 1226! This phenomenon is known as the “Christmas Star,” because it has been speculated for centuries that the “star” that guided the Magi might have been a similar conjunction of two planets.
In this lovely Christmas poem, Jessica Powers plays on the idea of the “great conjunction”—in her words “the onement of stars.” She sets up her problem at the beginning of the poem – the Magi who followed the star to the infant Christ “had one only star to follow.” I love the comparison of the Christmas star to “a single sanctuary lamp hung low”—this image emphasizes how easy to spot the star was, and also what it marked—the presence of Christ. It was like a “gold ornament in the astonished air.” It was easier for the Magi, Powers suggests – they knew exactly what to look for. But now it is more difficult. “I am confounded in this latter day; / I find stars everywhere.”
The speaker believes that she will have equal clarity one day – it’s rumored, she says, that one day we “shall come to see / that all the stars are one,” but this won’t happy until “midnight” –in other words, not until eternity, “past the loss of perishable sun.” We have to wait for this “great conjunction” of stars.
What is Powers talking about here when she talks about stars? That image of the “sanctuary lamp” in the first stanza gives us the clue. She is talking about the presence of Christ. The Magi, following a single star, found Christ himself. She ‘finds stars everywhere”—she finds Christ, but she doesn’t find him in one place. “I long for this night of the onement of stars / when days of scattered shining are my lot / and my confusion.” There are glimmers of Christ’s presence everywhere—but the light is “scattered” and at times confusing.
The end of the poem provides some resolution to this dilemma of hers, this being “In too much light.” Faith is saying – yelling, even—“burning her throat dry” to proclaim what this “scattered shining” means. It means that in even this place of “mornings,” where the night sky with its Christmas star is no longer visible, “there is not any place / where the sought Word is not.” The Christ she is looking for is everywhere—in every place she looks. “All places which have light in them / truly are Bethlehem.” No longer is Christ is born in just one place. Everywhere there is light—everywhere there is love, hope, truth, service, faith, reconciliation—Christ is born.
So if you missed the “onement of stars,” and didn’t see the “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn on the horizon this week, never fear. As Pope Francis has written, “The Lord… comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours” (Laudato Si).
Have a blessed and merry Christmas.




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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303