The Gift of Time and Wonder: Stella Maris

Stella Maris is an ancient Latin title for Mary which means Star of the Sea. The title was used in early church hymns to describe Mary as a guiding star on the way to Christ. In the 12C., Bernard of Clairvaux urged his followers to “look to the star, Mary” when they were tossed by life’s tempests. Mary became a symbol for sailors and seafarers and like Polaris, she guided them as they navigated the seas. Many coastal and fishing communities have churches, schools, and other structures dedicated to Stella Maris.

Stella Maris was on my mind as I spent time with my sister, Johanna, her partner, Cheryl, and their daughter, Estella in Maine. Life in coastal Maine revolves around the sea, especially during the summer when boating is such a pleasure. Johanna and Cheryl have a beautiful old wooden boat which they lovingly maintain. Each year there is an upgrade, and this year it was a fly bridge.

The view from the fly bridge was astounding. What a sight it was to see the islands of Casco Bay in all their rugged beauty, with the endless blue sky and warm sun overhead (instead of the cabin roof.) Perhaps most awesome was looking out over the ocean and watching it move, giving a sense of the ocean as a living thing.

I’m a landlubber and only experience the ocean in parts, like the waves on my feet at the beach or the calm water in a cove as I sail or kayak. The flybridge brought an entirely new perspective as I watched the ocean roll and heave with its giant swells. I gained a humbling appreciation for its massive size and power.

Being on the flybridge put me in mind of a book my clergy group has been reading for the Going Local ministry with which our congregations are engaged. One of the suggestions of the book, Leadership on the Line by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, is to get leaders “off the dance floor and onto the balcony”. Leadership is both active and reflective, and leaders have to alternate between participating and observing. I, for one, need to reflect and observe more often.

Of course, the dance floor is fun, too, and there is nothing more participatory and active than a three-year-old! That would be my niece, Estella, whose independent, inquisitive personality grows every day. One of her favorite lines is, “I can do it.” Her Mommy and Momma are very supportive of her autonomy. It takes grace to navigate the sacred bond between parent and child, knowing when to hold fast and when to let go. Even at three, the dance is going on.

One of my ‘bucket list’ goals was to make it to Acadia National Park this year. It was an amazing experience, being at the top of Cadillac Mountain, the place the sun touches first in the U.S. each day. Hiking along the beautiful cliffs of Mountain Desert Island was stunning, though I let our daughter Sarah and her friend Doug climb the Beehive, a 520 foot rock formation, on their own.

We were disappointed with the enormous crowds in Acadia, an indication that it is the second most visited national park in the U.S.. The traffic kept us from seeing sights and made us worry about the effect of so many feet on Mother Nature. Stella Maris reminds us that this earth, and the seas, are a blessing and a responsibility. We are co-creators and stewards of the sacred gifts given to us. As the 9C. Hymn Ave Maris Stella says:

Break the captives’ fetters, light on blindness pour

All our ills expelling, every bliss implore


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