Yesterday on my birthday I attended a physics lecture with a friend who’s a creative writer (poetry, a novel in the works). The lecture was about this year’s Nobel Prize winners’ discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, not decreasing.
It was satisfying to think for a ‘time’ of the immensity of the universe, about the invisible presence of dark matter and dark energy that may together account for about 96% of the universe. And even oddly satisfying — because true — to think of our planet’s destiny of extinction, when our sun grows old and expands, then contracts into a white dwarf.
Do you think it makes our lives seem to matter less, to set our lives in the context of the universe and its history? Or does it enhance your sense of wonder to think how very odd it is to be conscious beings, able to study phenomena millions of light years away — even as cars go past outside the window, and it is raining, and perhaps you have a headache, or another kind of ache in your heart instead? It is so hard not to bring the scale back down to ourselves, and to the habitual thoughts and feelings that course through our individual selves.
It seems funny to think of our vocations in such a universal context. And this isn’t wholly bad. I would still like to accomplish some life-long goals, goals that have always had their place among other things that usually take more immediate precedent. Thinking about Type 1a supernovae immense distances away reminds me that while it is good to honor and follow a sense of vocation, being preoccupied with whether or not we’ve accomplished something so much tied to a sense of our own worth is rather off-center.
A more local vastness came to mind to me on my birthday as well — the vastness of my ancestors, and of yours. And more horizontally, the vast number of human beings with whom we are sharing existence this very day on our breathing planet. We cannot possibly befriend each of them, know each of them intimately. But how off-center it seems to be worried about our own particular status, and for some of us our own relatively privileged lives, when there are so many who struggle to find the basic means of survival from day to day.
How do we get it on pitch — the way we matter, in right proportion?
Our bodies are made of the dust of past supernovae, past explosions of stars.
Our bodies too are inheritances of generations before us.
There are questions about our own lives we must continue to sniff out, as part of who we are. But it seems good to me to remember as we do the communion of saints, the multitudes of other human beings before and alongside us and after us, and the solitary spaces of an incomprehensibly vast universe which may very likely house other species writing something like this blog.
If God cannot be the God of all of this universe, then God cannot be God at all.