I’d got as far as Proverbs in reading through the Bible when I realised that there are many launching points for reflections in there. Take 3:19-20. It runs like this in the King James Version:
The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
If the heavens are a product of God’s understanding, then understanding the heavens – moons, planets, galaxies, light years, red shifts, black holes – should give us clues to what God is like. Our three-year-old grandson loves to recite the litany of the planets and to look out for Jupiter, at present shining brightly opposite his front door. May his experience of the Lord’s creation light up his heart this Christmastide and all his life through.
Brother Guy Consolmagno was meant to be addressing an astronomy conference recently, but a mild case of covid meant that he had to do so remotely, though he’d already arrived in Scotland, ready, or so he thought, to speak about meteorites. He reflects on his experience:(follow the link for the full text).
I’ve lost track of how many Covid “waves” this has been, but unlike the last waves there has been no uptick in deaths this time. Still, it’s no fun having your travel plans disturbed by disease, even after you’ve taken all the recommended precautions.
Some forty-plus years ago, the brilliant engineer Freeman Dyson wrote a book called Disturbing the Universe and the title alone would make it memorable. (The rest of the book’s pretty good, too.) Each of us has had to endure having our universes disturbed, by causes big or small. And each of us in turn disturbs the universe as well. We can’t help but poke and prod… sometimes with spacecraft, sometimes with prayer. It’s a universe that was created to be disturbed.
Thanks for your continued prayers and support, and know that you also have mine!
We were going to write about NASA’s James Webb telescope but Canon Anthony Charlton beat us to it. He is PP of St Thomas, Canterbury.
Amidst all the news about the continued atrocities in Ukraine and the search for a new prime minister, the first full-colour picture from the new James Webb Space Telescope has been released. The $10bn James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), was launched last Christmas and is billed as the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
It will make all sorts of observations of the sky but has two overarching goals. One is to take pictures of the very first stars to shine in the Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago; the other is to probe far-off planets to see if they might be habitable.
The BBC website reported “The image is said to be the deepest, most detailed infrared view of the Universe to date, containing the light from galaxies that has taken many billions of years to reach us. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. And that light that you are seeing on one of those little specks has been travelling for over 13 billion years,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.” And by the way, we’re going back further, because this is just the first image. They’re going back about 13 and a half billion years. And since we know the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, you’re going back almost to the beginning.”
What an exciting revelation. It is hard to take in but amazing that we have such a new glimpse of the universe. I immediately thought of the words of Psalm 8
“When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, or the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little lower than the angels; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hands. You put all things under his feet.”
Canon Father Anthony Charlton, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.
Are we being called to accompany rather than correct?
This is from a post by Eric Clayton, who was irritated by a bossy safety feature on his car. And that question and its link were to be today”s post, until the very same day I read another Jesuit writer’s wisdom, which answers the question pretty well:
We’re all members of a band, each of us with our own instrument to play. And we play best when we each add our part and don’t try to tell everyone else in the band how to play their instruments.
This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.
Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.
Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose:
Sheep from sheep Christ tells; Himself the Shepherd, no one else:
Star and star He names, Himself outblazing all their flames:
Dove by dove, He calls To set each on the golden walls:
Drop by drop, He counts The flood of ocean as it mounts:
Grain by grain, His hand Numbers the innumerable sand.
Lord, I lift to Thee In peace what is and what shall be:
Lord, in peace I trust To Thee all spirits and all dust.
I turned the corner into our street; at almost 4.00 p.m. dusk was falling, so why was a woman crouched down outside the piano workshop looking through her phone towards the dental surgery? Surely not to capture their new paint job, which needs a few brush strokes where the scaffold had stood.
A jerky movement in front of the photographer revealed a pied wagtail, rather whiter about the head than this one, maybe three metres away from her. She will have gone home happy for having seen this trusting creature up close and personal, and at least having tried to take its picture.
And so did I rejoice in bird and birder! Well, I had discovered something of human nature as well as having a good look at the wagtail.
Father James Kurzynski in his blog for the Vatican Observatory, questions the use of three verbs in this short piece: capture, take, and discover. ‘Capture’ and ‘take’ both have hints of violence and taking possession of something. ‘Discover’ – did I dis-cover something or was I made aware of it? Was it rather revealed to me? My smile was real enough.
You will smile more than once reading Fr James’s article, I promise.
Pied wagtail by Charles J Sharp, Sharp Photography
Another reflection on the stars by a writer who loves the wild places where dark skies are more likely, the stars more visible. Robert Macfarlane is moved, almost physically, by gazing up - or is it down? into the night sky.
The unconverted and limitless nature of the night sky ... is given a depth by the stars that far exceeds the depth given to the diurnal sky by clouds. On a cloudless night, looking upwards, you experience a sudden flipped vertigo, the feeling that your feet might latch off from the earth and you might plummet upwards into space... Our estrangement from the dark [due to street lighting] was a great and serious loss.
Robert Macfarlane, THE WILD PLACES, London, Granta, 2007.
A similar emotion struck David, who must have spent many a night under the stars:
For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Before we get carried away in gratification, let Macfarlane remind us that the loss of the night sky to urban dwellers is serious and stunting.
About the photograph: Image of the night sky above Paranal, Chile on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the galaxy to which we belong. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO’s VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred.
He in the evening, when on high
The stars shine in the silent sky,
Beholds th' eternal flames with mirth,
And globes of light more large than Earth;
Then weeps for joy, and through his tears
Looks on the fire-enamell'd spheres,
Where with his Saviour he would be
Lifted above mortality.
Meanwhile the golden stars do set,
And the slow pilgrim leave all wet
With his own tears, which flow so fast
They make his sleeps light, and soon past.
from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II via Kindle
Eddie was writing about the stars yesterday, so an opportunity presents to complement his reflection with a poem. I was talking to a friend who had been moved to tears by a television drama, and remarked that certain saints had written of 'the gift of tears'. My friend was grateful that the fountain had welled up within her.
Here we have a 17th Century poet, writing in English though living in Wales. He was twenty years old when Galileo died. Science did not erode his faith but enhanced it, intellectually and emotionally, the sight of the 'fire-enamell'd spheres' moving him to tears of awe at creation.
In the mid 18th Century M Allanson was already urging a considerable abatement in the perception that Europeans held of Africans.
It was of these parts of Guinea that Monsieur Allanson, correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, from 1749 to 1753, gives the following account, both as to the country and people: — “Which way soever I turned my eyes, I beheld a perfect image of pure nature: An agreeable solitude, bounded on every side by a charming landscape; the rural situation of cottages in the midst of trees; the ease and quietness of the Negroes, reclined under the shade of the spreading foliage, with the simplicity of their dress and manners: The whole revived in my mind the idea of our first parents, and I seemed to contemplate the world in its primitive state. They are, generally speaking, very good-natured, sociable, and obliging. I was not a little pleased with my very first reception; and it fully convinced me, that there ought to be a considerable abatement made in the accounts we have of the savage character of the Africans.” He adds: “It is amazing that an illiterate people should reason so pertinently concerning the heavenly bodies. There is no doubt, but that, with proper instruments, they would become excellent astronomers.”
The inhabitants of the Grain and Ivory Coast are represented by those that deal with them, as sensible, courteous, and the fairest traders on the coasts of Guinea. They rarely drink to excess; if any do, they are severely punished by the King’s order. They are seldom troubled with war: If a difference happen between two nations, they commonly end the dispute amicably.
I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice in vain. Samuel Johnson, in Boswell.
Dr Samuel Johnson had finally seen his Dictionary through the presses, and was about to go back to Lichfield to see his elderly mother. He would then have time for a holiday: this is part of his reply to an invitation to visit friends in Lincolnshire. At the time of posting we did not know if our August holiday would happen, but we can always reach the coast in a few minutes from home.Enjoy August, home or away, and thank God for friends and family.
(from “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell, George Birkbeck Norman Hill)