Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Speck in the Eye of God

My blog post for today will not be the text of my sermon this morning.  If you want to listen to it you can, but there is no manuscript to publish.  One of the primary differences between a sermon and, let's say, and essay is that the later is meant to be read while the former is meant to be heard.  Preaching is an aural form, and while you can certainly read the words that a preacher spoke you cannot really experience the sermon without listening to it.  (And, not to put too fine a point on it, but you really can't experience it fully without actually being in the room as it is spoken -- preaching, done correctly, is a conversational act, despite how one-directional it may seem.)

So like, if I may use a rather grandiose analogy, a Tibetan Buddhist sand painter who carefully prepares to create those elaborate and elegant mandalas and then, when it's been completed, brushes the sand away, I preached today without notes.

Besides, if truth be told, the real sermon was in the pictures and, so, that'll be my blog today.  (Along with some additional information that wasn't in the sermon.)

We started things off with another one of John Boswell's incredible Symphony of Science videos.  This one features Neil deGrasse Tyson, and is called "We Are Stardust:"

Cool, right? 

I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I fully agree that it's appropriate that a YouTube video of one of his lectures comes up when you Google "Greatest Sermon Ever."  Yet despite how much I love and admire this man, it was Richard Feynman's contribution that I wanted to focus on.  He's the man who says, "Stand in the middle and enjoy everything both ways -- the tininess of us; the enormity of the universe."  

That brought me to a couple of pictures.

The first was inspired by a quotation of Carl Sagan's:  "One of the great revelations of space exploration is the image of the earth -- finite and lonely -- bearing the entire human species through the ocean of space and time."  (No wonder we'd sung John Mayer's "Blue Boat Home" at the begining of the service!)  So, of course, we looked at that iconic image of the earth:

But with Feynmann in mind we sought a sense of perspective -- the tininess of us and the enormity of the universe.  So we contemplated this image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft as it orbited Saturn, looking back at . . . well . . . us.  (That's us above the arrow.)

Wild, right?  So next we took another step on our journey and looked at these two pictures:

The first is an image of the known, observable universe.  For a sense of scale, that's roughly 46 billion light years from side to side, meaning that it'd take you roughly 46 billion years to get from one side to the other . . . if you could travel at the speed of light!  And although that looks extremely congested, remember that the dark spaces are really incomprehensibly far apart.  (And I was informed, via email before the service, that my noted estimate of 100,000 stars in our galaxy and 100,000 galaxies in our universe was grossly low.  The true count is more like 200-400 billion for each!)

The second image, though, is the one that really gets me.  It's not a different angle on the same image, it's something entirely different -- rather than the observable universe, it's the electron cloud inside a hydrogen atom.  And as I said this morning, quoting The Matrix's Oracle, if that doesn't bake your noodle, try these on for size:

Are you beginning to get the idea that the real message of the morning was:  WOW!

We did get a little more speculative:

And I noted that some people might find this a little too "fringe" for their liking.  Too big a leap.  Perhaps skepticism was about to kick in.  And here I'd meant to delve a little bit more into the mystery of the Dogon people who Michelle Ba'th Bates had mentioned in her opening words.  This is an ethnic group from Mali in West Africa who, it is said, demonstrated remarkable knowledge of astronomy -- knowledge that shouldn't have been knowable.  It is said that they had made drawings that included astronomical features that simply aren't visible to the naked eye and which cultures with more advanced sciences only discovered fairly recently.  Most famously they are said to have known for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years that the star we call Sirius A is actually a binary star.  Advanced cosmological computations had postulated the existence of a Sirius B, but it wasn't actually observed until the science of optics had advanced to the point of making a telescope that could see it in the 1970s.

Now, as you can imagine, there are some rather fanciful explanations as to how they could have known this, and there are some equally passionate detractors who are certain not only that the whole thing is a hoax but that they know exactly how it was perpetrated.  To the best of my knowledge, though, neither side has fully adequately proved their point and, so, we may well be left with this mystery.  (Which, as Michelle also noted, goes along with questions about how the pyramids could have built with such precision, how Stonehenge could have been built at all, etc.)  My intention is not to try to convince anyone of any of this but, rather, to simply try to shock us awake to a reality that was perhaps best articulated by scientist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke -- "the world is not only more strange than you imagine . . . it's more strange than you can imagine."

And that's really the point of all of this.  I noted that while poets may have said this, and while mystics may have said this, that doesn't necessarily stir the soul of some Unitarian Universalists.  But here are scientists saying it:  we live in an incredibly and constantly amazing universe, and not only do we live in it but it lives in us.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson put it in John Boswell's song --
Look up at the night sky
We are part of that
The universe itself
Exists within us

We are star dust
In the highest exalted way
Called by the universe
Reaching out to the universe

Interconnected web indeed . . .

Pax tecum,

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Bob Brett said...

Terrific. Thank you.

RevWik said...

You're welcome. Thanks for reading, Bob.

Renee said...

Thanks again for your words today. I have been repeating in my head all day -- we are stardust in the highest exalted way. Wonderful way to spend a Sunday!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Erik. This is stretching my UU Christianity in so many beautiful ways. My favorite account of the Creation story is "Journey of the Universe" by Swimme and Tucker. I am elated that we can be thrilled by ever greater and greater knowledge as uncovered by science that join with all of the creation stories ever told. This certainly does that!

Dave Dawson said...

Didn't intend to be yes it's me.