With all that is wrong in the world today I sometimes lose sight of the beauty and the majesty of creation. A friend and a reader of my stories noted a sense of pessimism in my Focus musings. I will admit that I am a glass-half-empty kind of guy. And though I don’t dwell on the past, I focus too much on the future when I should concentrate on the present. Fortunately, my wife is a glass-half-full gal who balances my masculine yang with her grounded and feminine yin.
I told my friend that it’s hard for a conservative like me to ignore the Washington swamp and our feckless leaders. Though I believe in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, it saddens me to think it may not happen in my lifetime or in America. My worldly concerns are the dissolution of morality, the disintegration of traditional institutions like the Democrat and Republican parties; even the NFL is falling apart. Babylon has existed in the Hollywood swamp for decades, so the recent exposé in tinsel town and its unraveling comes at no surprise to me. What astounds me is that so many can be manipulated by clueless movie stars and by the utterly corrupt media.
Too often too many walk with senses tuned to the latest fake news cycle instead of the greater reality around us, when wonder is just outside the door. I often encourage my grandson Oakley to walk with me in the woods. I tell him, “Come on Oaks, let’s go; we might see something.” And of course we usually do when we “look.”
I’m a stargazer and when the air is cold and clear wondrous things can be seen if you look up at the night sky instead of gazing down at your smart phone or at the idiot box. However, my eyes and telescope could not have seen the wondrous event recently recorded by scientists and the Hubble space telescope. Apparently, two neutron stars ended their cosmic dance and collided with each other 130,000,000 light years away in the distant past. The light from that cataclysmic explosion is just now reaching us. Astronomers and astrophysicists are studying this so-called “kilonova” and have measured gravity waves as predicted by Einstein.
Some might ask, what does it matter that scientists confirmed general relativity by measuring these gravity waves? What is the relevance of seeing farther and extending man’s perceptual horizons? Actually, I believe it’s far more important than reality TV or useless Congressional hearings which only afford a stage for Senate dinosaurs to grandstand, while the Rocket Man threatens the world and the mullahs in Iran build their bomb. The Jewish theologian, philosopher and rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”
I saw the first Christmas decorations this week in a Bearden shop window. Folks, that’s just not right; we haven’t even had Halloween or Thanksgiving yet! Nonetheless, these decorations and the recent scientific revelations caused me to think of perhaps my favorite Christmas song. It’s called “I Wonder as I Wander (…out under the sky”) by John Jacob Niles. If you are unfamiliar with this song and it’s haunting melody and spiritual reflections, go to YouTube and tune your heart, mind and soul to wonder.
The universe is unimaginably vast and wondrous. We see distant stars and galaxies by the electromagnetic radiation they produce which reaches us across space and time as light. This radiation travels at the speed of 186,000 miles a second. Contrast that with the fastest transmission of a human nerve impulse which travels at 100 meters/sec or about one football field/second. The light from our own sun takes eight minutes to reach the earth, and the light from the next nearest star takes four years to reach our eyes and telescopes. It may be hard to get your mind around, but we actually see what stars looked like in the past when their light rays began their journey. By observing and measuring distant celestial objects, scientists look backwards toward the dawn of the universe estimated to be 13.8 billion years ago or 13.8 billion light years “distant.”
I learned last week that the Hubble space telescope is not only seeing farther, but seeing more. New estimates of the size of the universe boggle my mind. Our Milky Way galaxy has several hundred billion stars. (And we also know that many stars have planets circling them.) For some time we thought there were 100 billion other galaxies in the known universe. The latest estimate is that there are more than a trillion other galaxies! If you take an average of 100 billion stars per galaxy then there are 1022 stars in the universe, that’s a ten followed by twenty-two zeros. There are more stars than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the world.
I once wrote a paper about the location of heaven. No, I’ve never visited there or heard voices revealing heaven’s coordinates. My ruminations were just a science based thought experiment. People are curious by nature, and for all of recorded time, people have wondered about death and if anything comes next. Actually, as I consider the vastness of space and the multidimensional wonders of creation’s space-time, I don’t worry about that “far country.” I just trust that it will be OK for me and others. Even before Jesus, Socrates thought so.
In the sixth century BC, Jerusalem and God’s Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Jews were carried off into slavery. Some thought the exile would quickly end. However, the ancient prophet Jeremiah told the conquered Hebrews that they should not focus on the future, but live in the present moment. Jeremiah told the exiles to plant gardens and vineyards, to raise families and trust in the Lord. They did and restoration eventually occurred.
This star gazer sees that lesson and Psalm 118:24 as relevant for today’s journey.