Did you notice the moon these past few nights? The full moon a few days ago and then slivers of it disappearing night by night? One of the blessings, I try to remind myself, of having a dog is the opportunity to get outside every night and look up. While Luna is thoroughly exploring every centimeter of grass and sidewalk, catching up on all her smell-mail on posts and branches and lawns, I try to remind myself to look up and notice the sky–the moon, if it’s up, and the stars, especially if the moon isn’t up yet. It’s an ancient human exercise, this looking up at the night sky, and from it have come some of our most profound thoughts.
“We had the sky, up there,” Mark Twain wrote in Huckleberry Finn, “all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened.” “Whether they was made or only just happened”–that’s been the debate between religion and science for centuries, hasn’t it? But from what was once an un-bridgeable chasm between the two is emerging a new respect and even compatibility.
Carl Feit, a biologist and practicing Jew, writes that “Religion and science are two ways of looking at the world, and each helps guide our search for understanding. Profoundly religious people are asking the same questions as science: Who are we? And what are we? What’s the purpose? What’s the end? Where do we come from? And where are we going?” (Cited in The Mind of God, ed. Michael Reagan, p. 28)
On this 4th and final Sunday of this year’s Season of Creation, we celebrate “Cosmos Sunday.” It doesn’t get much “bigger picture” than that. And it is particularly in the study of the universe’s origins and workings, what is called “cosmology,” that some of the most profound discoveries and connections are being made. What cosmologists are discovering, writes Sharon Begley, is that the laws of nature do seem to be comprehensible and accessible to the human mind, and so we are somehow connected to or part of the cosmos, and secondly that the cosmos seems to be “fine-tuned for existence, in an almost-too-good-to-be-true manner.” (Begley, in Mind of God, p. 16)
“The Lord created me as the beginning of his way [or work],” Wisdom says in the book of Proverbs, “the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” Wisdom emerges first and, as one scholar says, is the blueprint, the “dynamic design that inspires God and determines the various codes of creation.” (Norman Habel , Seasons of the Spirit, Wk 4, Yr. C)
When God established the heavens, I was there,
[Wisdom says], when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker/
architect/ playmate; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
“The living design that integrates the codes of the cosmos is not viewed as a passive, lifeless blueprint, but a vibrant, living, presence.” (Habel, op cit.) Lady Wisdom, Sophia, which is the Greek word for wisdom, works and plays alongside Creator God in this “cosmological poem.” Strongly feminine, Sophia permeates creation, delighting in it and celebrating God’s creativity. It is a rich, dynamic, fertile image.
Science’s Big Bang is also a rich, dynamic, and fertile image, and as Leah Schade writes, that original supernova “had life, death, and resurrection, in that it birthed the elements of the universe as it exploded. Its death brought new life–helium, hydrogen, the beginning of galaxies. This means that Nature itself contains this imprint of the crucified and resurrected Christ. It is in every place, in every creature.” (Lutherans Restoring Creation, 4th Sunday in Cration, Yr. C)
Many in the early church saw Jesus as the incarnation of Wisdom, Sophia, calling him the divine Word or logos. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation [echoing back to Proverbs]; [Paul writes in Colossians] for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” This imprint of life, death, and resurrection, this wisdom, this word or intention, is on all creation. “So spacious is he,” Peterson puts it, “so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies.” (The Message)
The space probe Voyager has now left our solar system and entered into interstellar space, travelling further than anyone or anything in history. It takes our imaginations with it. The Hubble telescope has already sent back images of deep space that literally confound and inspire us with their images that come to us across both time and space. It is many of the scientists involved in these explorations and discoveries that are bridging the gaps between science and religion with their profound sense of awe and wonder at what they are finding.
I belong to the group of scientists
[writes Paul Davies] who do not subscribe to a conventional religion but nevertheless deny that the universe is a purposeless accident. Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level “God” is a matter of taste and definition.” (Mind of God, p. 59)
“The Universe begins to look more like a great thought, than a great machine,” writes Sir James Jeans. (Mind of God, p. 141)
Instead of picturing God as a medieval monarch on a marble throne,
[writes Tom Mahon in his book “The Spirit in Technology”] imagine God as the living awareness in the space between the atoms, “empty” space that makes up about 99.99 percent of the universe. Thinking of God that way gets us past some of the great theological divides of the past. Is God immanent or transcendent, internal or external, composed or compassionate? Like the question of whether the atom is wave or particle, the answer is: Yes.” (Mind, p. 13)
The God of my early religious training
[writes Chet Raymo] pulled off tricks that are not beyond the powers of any competent conjuror; Harry Houdini or David Copperfield could turn a stick into a serpent or water into wine without batting an eye. But no Houdini or Copperfield can turn microscopic cells into a flock of birds and send them flying on their planet-spinning course. No Houdini or Copperfield can cause consciousness to flare out and embrace the eons and the galaxies. (Mind…, p. 80)
And the great agnostic, Carl Sagan, wrote:
I had an experience I can’t prove, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was part of something wonderful, something that changed me forever; a vision of the Universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something that is greater than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us, are alone.
(Mind, p. 56)
When God established the heavens, I was there,” Wisdom says. “[Christ, the Logos, the Word] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” Paul writes. A traditional Jewish Tale explains it this way–”God said to Abraham, ‘But for me, you would not be here.’ ‘I know that, Lord,’ Abraham answered, ‘but were I not here, there would be no one to think about you.’” We are made of the same elements as stardust, we belong in the universe, are a part of the universe, are the self-consciousness of the universe, and it is to our own peril that we continue to think we can behave otherwise.
The late great scholar of myth Joseph Campbell responded to journalist Bill Moyers’ statement that the future of the human race would not be determined from space but rather right here, in how we claim and care for our identity as creatures of this planet.
Well, it certainly is [Campbell said]. When you go out into space, what you’re carrying is your body, and if that hasn’t been transformed, space won’t transform you. But thinking about space may help you to realize something. There’s a two-page spread in a world atlas which shows our galaxy within many galaxies, and within our galaxy the solar system. And here you get a sense of the magnitude of this space that we’re now finding out about. What those pages opened to me was the vision of a universe of unimaginable magnitude and inconceivable violence. Billions upon billions of roaring thermonuclear furnaces scattering from each other. Each thermonuclear furnace a star, and our sun among them. Many of them actually blowing themselves to pieces, littering the outermost reaches of space with dust and gas out of which new stars with circling planets are being born right now. And then from still more remote distances beyond all these there come murmurs, microwaves that are echoes of the greatest cataclysmic explosion of all, namely the big bang of creation, which, according to some reckonings, may have occurred some eighteen billion years ago.
That’s where we are, kiddo, and to realize that, you realize how really important you are, you know–one little microbit in that great magnitude. And then must come the experience that you and that are in some sense one, and you partake of all of that.
And it begins here, [Moyers adds]. It begins here. [The Power of Myth, 1988, p. 183]
“The final mystery is oneself,” wrote Oscar Wilde. “When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?’
That is the mystery left to us to explore, even as our brother and sister physicists continue to explore the many mysteries of the cosmos. So listen, finally, to the blessing that Wisdom offers at the end of chapter 8 of the book of Proverbs–
So, my dear friends, listen carefully: those who embrace my ways are most blessed. Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don’t squander your precious life. Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day’s work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of God’s good pleasure. But if you wrong me, you damage your very soul, when you reject me, you’re flirting with death.
May we follow in Wisdom’s ways, and so may we find life, not only for ourselves, but for the whole creation. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark