From the editor: November 14, 2014
Immeasurable Heaven, Timeless Selves
Scientists were elated on Nov. 12 when Europe's Rosetta space mission landed a robot on a 2.5-mile-wide Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, more than 300 million miles from Earth. Some of the scientists had not slept for days in anticipation of success. New clues about the formation of our own solar system may come from studying this comet.
The vast amount of knowledge gained about the universe in the last 100 years is truly remarkable. This video from Nature uses accumulated new research to reveal Earth's place in not only the Milky Way but within a supercluster of galaxies called Laniakea ("measureless heaven" in Hawaiian). Stunning!
After watching the video and reading The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, I have a new appreciation of the verse, "He stretches the heavens out like a tent" (Ps. 104:2).
But the scientific picture of the cosmos also needs imaginative work. No matter how we draw or visualize it, we cannot embed a fourth dimension, time, in our 3-D pictures. Because of the vast distances light must travel, what we see is light from the distant past and not necessarily what is there today.
We can't even take a picture and say, "This is today, and also 100 million years ago." The picture can't be of any single point in the past. Any cosmic "selfie" is a snapshot looking down a deep tunnel of time. The myriad points of light reaching our telescopes are from myriad times past—from the light of our Sun reaching Earth in 8 minutes and 20 seconds to the light and background radiation from billions of light-years away, and everything in between.
Similarly, we are not simply "selfies," or what we appear to be on November 14, 2014. Our lives also reach back in time, and time past is present through us. I mean that living within my thoughts, my words, and my deeds are the past lives of others—their thoughts, words, and deeds.
Take language as the most obvious example of this. Vocabulary, meaning and shades of meanings—these are the words I use to communicate and commune with others, but they are not my own. They come down to me on a living stream of time.
I am also influenced by events from the past that I never saw—the story about m great-grandfather who converted after he nearly died as a young man in an accident. I am influenced by the way I saw my grandmother treat strangers. By my father's tour of duty at Anzio. My memory brings the past into the present where it can continue to have effect.
There is no such thing as an autonomous human being. We are connected not only in the present, but also back beyond the horizons of our conscious memories to others. I dare say that a single human being alive to the past and the present is more complex that the cosmos itself.
The idea of being a self-defined atomic individual is an illusion. To persuade us otherwise, political and social theories that promise "individual" freedom and autonomy must turn our faces around and have us blink at a never-arriving Future, while discernible light from the past is put behind us, as behind a closed door.
Don't believe those offers of new wisdom coming from those asking for power over us. As with the heavens, we can learn much from the light that has already shone in the past and in our hearts. We have already been made free, and the Light still shines.
Thank you for reading.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
—James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James