Editor’s note: During Advent, we invite you to join the FMS family as we journey toward Christmas with a new blog series: “¡Miren cuántas luces! Look at all the lights!” In this first post of the series, Associate Director Meghan Meros invites readers to try a kind of spiritual stargazing that views darkness–rather than light–as a starting point for appreciating life’s bright spots.

As a child who normally did well in school, I did not appreciate receiving a “C” on my fifth-grade stargazing journal. In the first days of the weeks’-long assignment, I waxed poetic and wrote phrases like, “I felt inspired when I looked at the Hale-Bopp comet, and the universe seemed so vast!” Later, stargazing yielded to frustration and one-line journal entries such as, “I felt bored.” Following the supposed markers of all but the most basic and obvious constellations led nowhere; all I saw was a mottled sky and the ambient light from streetlamps casting a haze over southern California.

Eventually, I shrugged off not just the poor grade but the entire concept of trying to find anything specific among the stars. I simply figured that stargazing, beyond looking up with a general sense of awe, just wasn’t my thing.

Fifteen years later, however, I had an experience that changed my perspective. In the mountains of Peru, where I spent several weeks leading a trip for high school students, our incredibly knowledgeable backpacking guide invited us to look at the sky from the vantage point of the Southern Hemisphere. Gazing up, I saw the Milky Way arching across the black of night with an abundant radiance that beckoned me to gaze more deeply. Looking up was a powerful moment of prayer that offered a new connection with God’s creation above.

Then, our guide told us we could see a llama in the sky, and my spirits fell. Memories of fifth-grade star-gazing frustration returned.  “Don’t ruin the moment with a constellation!” I thought. But to my surprise, our guide pointed not at a star, but at the darkness—at a “hole” in the twinkling fabric of the Milky Way.

Using that patch of darkness as a starting point, our guide asked us to expand our focus and notice not just one or two stars, but all the stars around, stars that created a frame for the black void. Lo and behold, that frame just so happened to be in the shape of a llama. Though her color was darkness, I could see her. She transformed my frustration into a moment of joy.

I recall this story at the end of a strange year for our world, a year in which I have often found it difficult to track single points of light and see what constellations they make or what stories they tell. Staring into the darkness, I can feel as lost and vulnerable as my fifth-grade self who threw down her journal and believed stargazing was not for her.

For my own sanity and with a genuine awareness of how okay my life actually is even if many things don’t seem okay, I try to focus on the lights: a family Zoom call here, a sunny day there; a call with an overseas friend here, news of vaccine advances there. Even as I am grateful–so grateful!–for these blessings and others, these individual lights don’t fully dispel the darkness. I am still separated from loved ones. I miss hugs, handshakes, and choir practice. I grieve for those that are grieving.

And yet, I refuse to believe the lights are less meaningful than the darkness and that the darkness precludes spiritual or emotional growth. This makes me wonder if God is inviting me to look again, to try a different kind of stargazing that is more akin to what I did in Peru than what I attempted in my backyard. Perhaps the invitation is to stare straight into the darkness rather than skirt around it. Perhaps the darkness, framed rather than punctuated by the stars, forms something I haven’t seen before: a new llama in the sky.