Glancing over featured books in a children’s library, a gleaming cover caught my eye. From beneath the dust jacket, a young girl gazes at a silver, iridescent title — Stardust. The back of the book declares, “We are all made of stardust, so shine in your own way.” Stardust, by Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith, is a story of a young girl who is repeatedly outshone by her older sister. She wants to be appreciated and affirmed — she wants to be a star. The girl’s grandfather comes alongside her and dries her tears, comforting her with a story of creation (causation?) beginning with a BANG where mountains and seas materialize and big sisters and little sisters appear, each shining in different ways. His message is simple: because you come from stardust, you ARE a star. You shine.
The reader recognizes this star metaphor, intuitively knowing that this girl does not want to be a literal star — an isolated inferno of gas — she wants the scintillation of significance. She craves recognition. In the biblical creation narrative, we are made of dust. Dust given life. The dust receives breath and spirit and is recognized by its creator, walking in relationship with the Almighty. In the BANG narrative, dust is the deity. Dust is life, or life is dust. In each narrative, identity centers around proximity. While the biblical narrative offers recognition, the bang narrative stops at reconstitution. In it, proximity to the senseless star is offered as a palliative for personal significance.
If we are all made of this rather rudimentary substance of stardust, where does our singular and special “shining” come from? Where is the bridge between dust and the shining spark of personhood? The Christian anthropology answers these questions. The bridge is Christ, a light in the darkness, an invitation to participation in the divine. Secular education describes our world as senseless and unintentioned, yet books like these speak to, and speak into, our need for intimacy and intentionality. “Shining” is held up as a laudable endeavor, but this vague idea is not enfleshed. It is not incarnated. How do we shine? For what? Whose light do we reflect?
The grandfather is the bright spot in this story, not for the narrative he purports, but for his attentiveness and Abba love. Their interaction gives the girl a sense of purpose. She embraces a love of space and studies space travel, riding a soaring spaceship in the final frame. At face-value, she has arrived: a newspaper clipping hangs beside the spaceship’s window, showing the grown girl in a spacesuit and proclaiming “Spacewoman is a Star”. She has “found herself”, literally and symbolically assuming her place amidst the stars. She waves back at earth, radiant with wonder.
But I wonder… is she fulfilled? The girl’s achievements are admirable; they shine, yet they provide no warmth. She has “made it,” all the way to space, but her surroundings are a vacuous void. Without relationship, the drive toward “shining” sets us apart, encasing us in metallic spaceship shells which separate us from others, from the cosmos, and from our creator.
Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee, looks to stars for comfort, heightening our awareness of star patterns and echoes in nature. It encourages readers to cut out a star and keep it close: “Some days you feel shiny as a star. If you’ve done something important, people may call you a star. But some days you don’t feel shiny. Those days, it’s good to reach for the one in your pocket.” This book, like Stardust, encourages children to turn inward. Another Marla Frazee book, All the World, culls a deep attentiveness to place and personhood. It displays a savory sequence of adventures and family fun right up until the last line hits like a sucker punch: “All the world is all there is.” The statement is stifling. It decides against wonder and acts contrary to the scientific curiosity that seemingly informs the sentiment.
I mention these books because I commend them to you, even as I find them lacking. It is important to be aware of the narrative of the world so that, like Paul in the Areopagus, we can speak into it. After coming to know the Logos, we can recognize the holes in these star-filled pockets. These books touch upon a deeper significance: without love, we have no light. The stars are gleaming and glorious because they offer light in the dark. They are not an end unto themselves; they are a shining testament to the God of glory.
We do not need to “shine in our own way.” We need to shine in God’s way, stepping onto the path of light and truth. We each do this uniquely, but like the girl with her grandfather, we flounder until the father figure comes alongside us and gives our life a narrative purpose. The centrality of family and love and comfort in these books points to deep, human desires that mere material narratives cannot satisfy. They are edging in the right direction, but it is not celestial bodies that comfort us — it is our Creator. We grope for our place beside God in the garden, seeking His life-giving breath of love.
Photo by Freepik