November 2018 Reflection
“From Cave to Cosmos: Peace and Justice shall Meet, Art and Science shall Embrace.” On Saturday, December 1st, how this all might happen will be explored. It isn’t every day that a scientist/mystic and an artist/mystic join forces to tell a story that will blow your mind! Are you up for the challenge of hearing the new story of our universe unfold through art and science, with a bit of religious mysticism thrown in for good measure? Then join us and enter in to what is beyond our imaginations.
You know what is mind-blowing? The universe is 13.7 billion years old! There are 10 billion trillion stars in the universe! There are estimated to be 170 billion galaxies! The Milky Way, our galaxy, had at least 200 billion stars! The Milky Way is 100,000, light years across! The nearest galaxy, Andromeda, is 2.538 million light-years away from our galaxy, and it would take us 2.5 million years to get there! Hydrogen and helium were created in the big bang, and then the stars created calcium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and the 60 other basic ingredients found in the human body. So, we human beings are literally made of star dust! This is all mind blowing, but what the best science today can tell us about our universe. It is almost an unbelievable story, but it is our story.
It is often very difficult to get traction among people to grasp the enormity of the challenges facing us with pollution, climate change, rising sea levels, extinction of species, desertification of green space, etc. For some, struggling to get food on the table and keep a roof over one’s family occupy their thinking most of the day. For others, the environment enters awareness only when it is an obstacle to the satisfaction of some immediate need. For still others, the issues are so overwhelming and so not on the human scale, that we shut down in despair or out of survival. This is really a challenge for our imaginations.
There is a tendency, quite natural, for human beings to understand the universe around them in human terms. Our motor-skeletal frame tends us to position ourselves as the center, around which everything else gets organized. This also is how children organize their world, around their own needs, since those are the most immediate. Mom and Dad become the sources of food, with little attention to, or awareness of, mom’s tiredness or dad’s crankiness. Of course, as we grow we come to the realization that the other people in our lives are also sources of desire and motion, and that we all have to figure out a way to co-ordinate the satisfaction of our desires with the satisfaction of others’ desires. Some of us learn the skills necessary for a smooth co-ordination with others, and some of us have a hard time. Welcome to the imperative to grow up!
I mention this only because this natural tendency to relate everything to our human senses and interests and bodies has echoes in our language, our art, our music, our politics and our religion. For example, we use the language of up and down, which only makes sense in relation to our physical bodies. In space, there is no “up” and “down.” We also experience ourselves as standing still on the earth. But we know this is not the case, since the earth is twirling on its axis, and moving around the sun, so we are not “standing still,” except insofar as we understanding everything else as related to where we are standing. From that perspective, we are standing still. The difficulty/limit to this self-centering of the universe is that we have a hard time imagining ourselves as star dust, for example, or as inhabiting a planet that is one of perhaps millions of livable planets, in a galaxy of billions of stars, in a university with trillions of stars, that is 13.7 billion years old.
A challenge of our day is to re-envision ourselves as members of this universe described in the first paragraph of this commentary. This is what Sr. Ilia Delio and Br. Mickey McGrath will help us to do on Saturday, December 1st at 2PM at Sacred Heart Church. Their talk “From Cave to Cosmos: Justice and Peace shall Meet, and Science and Religion will Embrace ” will offer us new images, in art and in words, for what it means to be a human being in this strange, vast and mysterious universe that science has revealed to us. It is exciting but also daunting. On the one hand, we are a small speck in a small corner of the known universe. On the other hand, as Teilhard de Chardin said, human beings are the universe becoming conscious of itself. We can rejoice in the beauty of all that exists. We can stand in awe of its complexity and aliveness. We can articulate the moving and evolving system that is the universe. Science can reveal to us a dynamism that science itself cannot explain but can recognize. This dynamism is revealed in all things, in the mammoth star and in the smallest grain of sand. It becomes conscious in us and we give it the name love.
Join us on the 1st of December. You can go to this site to purchase tickets. New images, new stories, a new relatedness to the world and universe around us: all invite us to a new way of being in the universe, both rooted in our everyday worlds, but also in tune with an evolving, dynamic and amazing universe. This is us!
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
Board of Trustees