North Star: A New World Present but Not Yet

by Anthony Smith

The North Star, also called Polaris, is a star in the constellation Ursa Minor. For centuries this major astronomical body hung from the heavens giving navigational aide to travelers. By sea or land, this North Star was a ready reference gifting explorers and merchants (both ancient and modern) coordinates to worlds known and unknown. 

The North Star is the north star because of its usual placement in the sky that led travelers to the northern parts of the globe. In the case of runaway enslaved Africans in the Antebellum South, the North Star would lead them to northern free territories. Following this large celestial body in the night sky would lead them to new worlds. Many of our ancestors would follow this star all the way to Canada. It is in these northern places, away from the surveillance of slavocracy, they would build new lives and worlds for their children and descendants.  

The North Star, for participants in hush harbors, came to symbolize the possibility of a new world. A free and just world. A world free of domination and oppression. For those that participate in modern day hush harbors or Liberating Churches, the North Star may not be faraway geographical location. The North Star may be a reference point to the new world the Spirit is making in our midst. The North Star may be more than a pointer to a new spot on the planet for us to sojourn to (it still can be that too). For those of us on the collective journey of decolonizing our souls, the North Star points to new theological and ecclesiological coordinates locii imperium (in the heart of empire). 

The North Star represents what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls a “social imaginary, a broad understanding of the way a given people imagine their collective social life.” 1 We see this idea exemplified in the baptismal story of Jesus as told in the gospel of Mark. When Jesus comes out of the baptismal waters of the Jordan he is possessed by the Holy Spirit. As we follow the sequence we see the Spirit, like a dove, tear open the old world. The dove, representing a new world, harkening back to the story of Noah and the Ark alerts everyone that a new world has arrived. 2 The Spirit’s landing and possession of Jesus is also the landing and possession of the possibility of a new world. Jesus is anointed with Heavenly Spirit power to build a new world. For those of us that participate in Liberating Churches, we should now see that to be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the grace and energy to struggle and build a new world in the midst of the old one characterized by idolatry and oppression. 

The North Star represents the Spirit’s desire and prefigurative presencing of free zones in the midst of the Global Capital Order.3 It is the new social imaginary that unleashes the possibility of a new way of being in the world.  North Star spaces gift us coordinates to liberation in the midst of shrinking publics, commons and spaces needed to cultivate our imaginations and attune our bodies to the Spirit of liberation already at work in our communities. 

At our church, Mission House, in Salisbury, North Carolina, our discernment has led us to cultivate a North Star community in our city. This is an ongoing journey of learning, unlearning and relearning. We practice radical hospitality by being a vital part of the organic community organizing in our city and county. We practice this radical hospitality by opening our space to all concerned community members. We have created intergenerational space to celebrate the arts by hosting monthly open mic gatherings. We have established a filmmaking group with local youth to provide space for them to tell their own stories, address justice issues and build community together in a sea of loneliness. These are just small contributions to the larger work of creating new maps with ancient coordinates that lead to liberation and love. May you discern and grow in your own faithfulness in journeying to the North Star in your own community.

Questions: 

  1. What is the North Star in your community? How will you discern and practice the journey towards that North Star? 
  2. What new social reality is the Spirit pushing you to help cultivate in your community? 
  3. Traveling to the North Star can be an arduous journey. What’s in your backpack to help with the journey (self-care plan, community building practices, collective play plan, etc.)?

Endnotes:

  1. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (2007) 
  2. Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988)
  3. Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group.

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