Perhaps its because my new work responsibilities give me less time to do astronomy. Maybe its because my day off has been routinely cloudy. Could it be that climate change is creating more volatile weather patterns, leaving me with fewer clear nights? Then again, maybe I’ve just had a bad streak of luck so far in 2021.
Whatever the reason (and its probably a combination of many reasons), I just haven’t had great skies to offer astrophotography images this year. Last night, this reality hit a comical highpoint when I decided to do some imaging of the night sky. Yes, the Moon is waxing to half and the weather transition is moving toward more humid skies in my home state of Wisconsin. In light of these facts, my expectation level was rather low for stunning star photography. Still, I figured I should be able to pull out some objects in the Milky Way. More importantly, I just wanted to be out under the night sky last night.
I went to an old abandoned Church that has dark skies and good horizon lines. I got out of my car and looked up. “I can’t see the Milky Way.” The combination of Moon shine and fog from the humidity basically washed out my sky. Still, I figured I’d set up my camera to see what my camera sensor could see. What was the result? An image that made me want to re-write the classic song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) by Don McClean to begin “Foggy, Foggy Night.”
I’ve come to find on nights like this that you can approach them with different mentalities. I can get frustrated over the lack of satisfying results on a night I tried to protect for something I love. This is a legitimate response, but one that really does no good for me. Why get frustrated with a hobby you love?
A healthier approach is to embrace a lesson I learned in my days of college ministry. The student missionaries I worked with at UW-La Crosse would often speak of “the sphere of concern vs. the sphere of influence.” I’ve reflected on this before, but, as I often remind my parishioners, repetition is the mother of learning, so I figured a refresher for our readers wouldn’t hurt.
In short, our sphere of concern can be broad and far reaching including global issues, problems that local and national governments face, struggles seen in the Church, and so forth. The problem is that very few if any of these concerns are actually things we can impact. Therefore, to live in the sphere of concern can become very deflating, constantly wanting to change what we really can’t change.
The sphere of influence is a much smaller reality of those things immediately before me that I can impact. For example, do I have concerns and opinions about the state of the Catholic Church that are global in nature? Yes, I do. Do I have the ability to change those realities? No, not really. As a Catholic Priest, do I have before me areas of influence where I can make an effective change for the better? Absolutely! Therefore, the goal is to recognize both the sphere of concern and influence, but live primarily in the sphere of influence.
Applying this to my night of star gazing, leaning against my car, gazing into a milky haze singing, “Foggy, Foggy Night,” I thanked God for the evening. Did I see what I hoped to see? No, I didn’t. Was I able to give thanks for the handful of stars I was able to see, reminding me why I love astronomy? Absolutely!
Spiritual Reflection: What is your sphere of concern and your sphere of influence? What are things that you have the opportunity to positively impact today? And what are the things that you don’t have much influence on that can distract you from the decisions you need to make?
Pray with this today and, as night falls, if the skies over your head has you singing “Foggy, Foggy Night,” don’t let the understandable frustration of not being able to contemplate God’s creation rule your heart. Instead, give thanks for what you can see and commit to doing what you know God asks of you today. Who knows? Perhaps if enough of us take proper care of our sphere of influence, we just might see positive movement in our sphere of concern.