Stars in your multitudes, scarce to be counted…

…Filling the darkness
with order and light
you are the sentinels
silent and sure
keeping watch in the night…
— “Stars” from Les Miserable

No, I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I couldn’t help but think it after seeing what our darkened cities would show of the night sky, (H/T):

(Excepted from link)
© Thierry Cohen, “San Francisco 37° 48′ 30” N 2010-10-09 lst 20:58″, courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff

If you live in a heavily populated area, chances are you don’t see the stars in the night sky all that often. Light pollution in cities and large towns turns the sky into a hazy, detail-free area.

So what are we missing?

Well, these beautiful and cleverly executed photos from French photographer Thierry Cohen should give you some idea. The series is called ‘Darkened Cities’, and it imagines what the skies over major cities around the world would look like if all the lights went out.

One of the greatest nights of my life was spent gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean, while at Montauk, and seeing just a hint of what Cohen’s genius brings and got me thinking thusly:

Does the fact that we can no longer see the stars have anything to do with our loss of wonder? These things, the stars, and all creation – they are more splendid, perfect, beautiful and lasting than anything man can create or even conceive.

It seems like when we were more aware of milky ways and horizons, it was easier to believe. Could Joan of Arc have led her army, could she even have thought to, could she have trusted enough, without having a sense of something greater, bigger than herself?

We have obliterated the stars with our artificial light – but perhaps we’ve blinded ourselves, too. Without the wonder, the greatness of the galaxies in our sight, we’ve lost the ability to believe in, or expect, miracles.
When you cannot see the glory of God’s creation, how can you wish to glorify the Lord? No longer seeing anything greater than ourselves, we turn inward, we worship our own thoughts, our invention, our desire.

Check out the whole photo series.
It’s wonderful! And we need more wonder.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Barb Hammer


    We live in a rural area in the middle of Missouri…flyover country. It’s quite easy to see the stars and the Milky Way. There are very few lights nearby. I take our 2 dogs out for nighttime walks and it is good practice to do so using just my night vision. One night recently I just had to stop while out on the path in our pasture and look up. It was breathtakingly lovely. And I had a good conversation with the angels. The dogs didn’t quite get but knew enough to stay still while I did. Just go out into the country.

  • Bertha

    You are right; seeing the grandeur of the stars brings deep awe and love for the Creator. Not being able to see it somehow diminishes God’s rightful place in our world. My mom has a small country place, isolated from city and lights. Night-time is beautiful. I step off the cabin porch to the open field, tilt my head back, feel the stretch in my neck, and gaze at the stars. Even better is to lie down on the grass and let the wonder of it all wash over me. For me, there is no substitute for this kind of prayer.

  • zmama

    Christmas 1989 I traveled to Medjugorje. After midnight Mass I climbed Mt Krizevac (Cross Mountain). At the top, under the 30 foot cross erected by the local residents decades earlier, I found several other pilgrims who also wanted to spend the night on the mountain. Never before or since have I seen a sky so breathtakingly brilliant. Shooting stars were clearly visible. I have often wished I could go back there again and yet when I see updated photos of the village I become wistful for what the village was before so many pilgrims visited. In 1989 there were no street lights. To walk anywhere in the village at night it was critical to have a flashlight. Without one your could not see your hand in front of your face. The photos now show modern street lights illuminating the town, now much larger than the once small village. While I’m sure the lighting helps keep residents and visitors safer I have to wonder if such lighting has affected the awe inspiring view of the night sky I experienced 23 years ago. I came home from that trip with pneumonia, having picked up the flu on the way over. Certainly spending the night on the mountain in order to witness the sunrise on Christmas morning was not the healthiest decision but all these years later I have never forgotten the beauty of that sky that night.

  • Manny

    I enjoyed the photo series. I think the wonder cuts both ways. As an engineer, I marveled at the skyscrapers and bridges in that photo essay. Perhaps people have been accustomed (I wanted to say habitualized, but apparently there’s no word) to such wonders that a century ago were unimaginable. I can see how some would be accustomed to all those stars if they were routinely visible.

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  • Adam

    A few years ago, I had the pleasure of camping in Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s fairly removed from major light sources–I think the closest major city was Edmonton, about 3 hours north. After dark, I was able to see more stars in one location than I ever had before. It didn’t look nearly as good as what’s in these pictures, suggesting to me that the effects of light pollution are worse than we imagine. Still, it gave me a pretty good feeling of wonder to see that many stars at once, like I was less alone than I previously thought.

  • Fiestamom

    A couple of years ago, we were at Atlantic Beach, NC. There was a power outage, and all of the lights were out. As we crossed the Intercoastal Waterway, towards the ocean, I couldn’t help but think that was how the first colonists saw it.

    I do enjoy spending time in the rural Southwest, the stars are beautiful, so many shooting stars, etc. it’s sad that so many don’t see the real grandeur of the heavens.

  • http://NA Lorraine

    We don’t really lose what we don’t have. Just the other morning, shortly before day began but after the snowfall had blanketed the earth and the clouds were still on their journey eastward, the city light seemed to have warmed the rooftop of the house across the street with a glow of peace and comfort.There were not stars out. And thinking about this, reading stirs one imagination and one can envision the beauty of the universe without having seen it. The pictures displayed did not do for me what it did for you. Missing are the sounds of summer that adds a presence to the view of the night sky or the chill of winter where the darknest of universe amidst the moon and stars takes my breath away. I read the book, Les Miserable, and I’m sure the movie cannot do it justice. But yet, the light within may be rekindled for some while others may dream on. We somehow bring our stories into the story of Les Miserable, and could I become a better person for having watched it or will my misery continue?

  • Patricia

    I well remember as a child visiting my grandparents, who had an over 100 acre farm in upstate NY, looking up to see the incredible numbers of stars, and the Milky Way. It was breathtaking.

    Wishing you a joyous New Year, and wanting to thank you for the light you bring to my life. You get me thinking.

  • dry valleys

    Not bad, that. And this is why some people are opposed to light pollution as much as they’re opposed to dumping waste in the ground, in rivers, etc. Anyway, carry on! (And happy new year to anyone reading this).

  • TXRed

    When I was in grade school, one fall my parents pulled my sibling and I out of school for two weeks and we went to Yellowstone National Park. It was the first year the park was open in winter. We stayed at a cabin near Old Faithful lodge, and drove out to Geyser Basin to look at the stars. I still remember staring at the sky, utterly confused because I could not find constellations! There were too many stars! Since then I’ve been a few other places where you can see empty skies (Ayers Rock, Four Corners in NM), but that first wonder-struck night remains clear in my mind’s eye. Truly G-d was right. “It is good.”

  • Vicki

    I was so happy to read this post and your linked article! Very timely for me. It just so happened that last month I moved to far West Texas where my husband got a job at McDonald Observatory. Since then I have had the privilege of watching people’s reactions when they see beauty of the Milky Way – some for the first time in their lives. Priceless! People who live in light polluted areas are definitely missing out. The night sky is awe inspiring.