This week, while trying to figure out why so many scientists are so excited about the James Webb Telescope, I tried to learn some basic facts about the Cosmos, which my tiny brain continues to struggle to understand. My quest for understanding begins with light, which as a theologian struggling to write a sermon in this Season of Epiphany, when Christians are busy celebrating the LIGHT which came into the world at Christmas, is as good a place as any to begin. Apparently, there are different kinds of light. Light which is not visible and light which is not visible. I was only dimly aware that there are different kinds of light, so you may already know how difficult it is for me to comprehend the intricacies of science. So, let’s take it slowly, there’s light that is invisible to the human eye and there’s light that is visible to the human eye. The invisible light is known as infrared and ultraviolet light. It turns out that even as we worship here and now, both visible and invisible light emitted shortly after the big bang this, light is finally arriving in the form of invisible light.
I know science is hard for some of us. So, let me put it in words you may be more familiar with, In the beginning, the CREATOR said, let there be LIGHT and LIGHT was. Boom, they call it the Big Bang, and then LIGHT in all its glorious forms, a spectrum, some of it we can see and some of which, until recently we couldn’t see. But soon and very soon, thanks to a telescope which was launched on Christmas Day. I know, scientists with a sense of irony gathered in French Guiana to watch the James Webb Space Telescope launched into space. The Webb Telescope has been dubbed the successor to the Hubble Telescope. Where the Hubble Telescope could only view visible light, the Webb Telescope will capture information through infrared light.
Now here’s the part where my ability to comprehend wanes, the Webb Telescope will be able to sear farther back into time, capturing information from “ultraviolet and visible light emitted during the epoch when the very first galaxies formed is now arriving in the form of infrared light, after being stretched or ‘redshifted” by the expansion of the universe.” Suffice it to say, the largest, most powerful, telescope in history is about to blow our minds, revealing information which will shed light on the origins of the Cosmos. Scientists will be unraveling information from a device capable of enabling our species to look back in time to the genesis of our Cosmos.
The fabulous thing about the scientific method is that it is a way of thinking which enables us to confirm, deny, or revise our theories about the nature of reality. In this ever-evolving Cosmos our theories about what is and isn’t true, these theories evolve based on a theory’s ability to hold up in the face of observable evidence.
A wordsmith like myself takes great delight in the origin of the word “theory” which comes from the same Greek words from which we get the world “theology” – theo is Greek for the MYSTERY we have come to call, “GOD” and “logos” is Greek for “word” or “reason”. The combination of these Greek words came together over time to evolve into the verb “theoria” to watch and contemplate or speculate ideas and reasons about the nature of what we see. We humans are ever so fond of theorizing about the nature of the REALITY in which we live, and move, and have our being.
According to scientists we need to prepare ourselves for the epiphanies which are about to require us to confirm, deny, revise, and even develop new of theories about the origins of the Cosmos. Theologians, those of us who are fond of speculating on the nature of the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being are also about to have our minds blown.
This amazing new telescope has me thinking of an old telescope I once helped a wise theologian set up in a field almost thirty years ago. Friends and I, living, working, and dreaming on a hobby-farm come retreat center, invited a wise old man to spend some time expounding on theology which he had developed during his decades of being a pastor, chaplain, theologian, educator, and amateur astronomer. Fritz Norstad arrived ready to share his wisdom with us wearing a t-shirt with the words, “Old Age and Cunning, beats youth and exuberance every time!” and it was love at first sight!
The plan was for Fritz to deliver a lecture after dinner and then when darkness arrived Fritz would guide our attempts to star-gaze through his old telescope. In the afternoon some of the children and I were swept up by Fritz’s joyous presence. The children couldn’t get enough of Fritz as he mesmerized them with stories which always ended with children rolling in the grass with laughter. But it wasn’t all fun and games, Fritz employed the children to help him cart his telescope out into the field to get it ready for the evening’s activities. A deal was being negotiated that would see the children stay up long past their bedtime in exchange for some silence during Fritz’s impending lecture. But before the deal could be sealed, one of the youngest of the children managed to push his way up close to Fritz, as if on a mission to secure some understanding of what was going to happen, long after he should be in bed. Little three-year-old Justin, his eyes wide open, pointed to the telescope, and in a voice filled with wonder asked, “Do stars come out of there?” When the other children’s laughter died down, Fritz took Justin’s hand and placed it on the telescope and said, that if Justin could stay awake long past his bedtime, not only would he see stars, but through the telescope he would see the very face of GOD. Needless to say, all of the children were quiet during the lecture, except for the parts where Fritz elicited gales of laughter form all of us. And when the time came, little Justin was the first among us to see stars come out of the telescope as we stared into the very face of GOD.
Over the decades which have transpired since that spectacular summer’s night, I have often peered into the Cosmos rejoicing in the memory of the awe and wonder of an enthusiastic child who, thanks to the wisdom of a wise, old, theologian, began to see the face of GOD in the beauty and the majesty of the Cosmos. It wasn’t just wisdom which Fritz shared with us; it was LOVE. Not the hearts and flowers kind of love, but the LOVE, which is cosmic, so deep and vast that it not only permeates all that is; it is also the SOURCE and SUSTAINER of all that is. The kind of LOVE we see all around us as we live and move and have our being in the ONE Jesus life and teachings taught us is LOVE.
The LOVE which the Apostle Paul describes in the First Letter to the followers of the Way in Corinth where he writes: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
How many of us have the courage to seek the face of DIVINITY, the ONE which is LOVE? As for our theories and theologies, they too will come to an end, for we know only in part, and the partial will come to an end.
In her latest book, “The Primacy of Love” scientist and theologian Ilia Delio quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who insisted that: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces.” Writes Delio, “By declaring love a cosmological force, Teilhard indicated that love is an energy ‘present from the Big Bang onwards, though indistinguishable from molecular forces. In his poem ‘The Eternal Feminine,” Teilhard speaks of cosmic love in the voice of wisdom,” WISDOM SOPHIA: “‘I am embedded in the force field that is driving the cosmos towards greater novelty, towards greater integrity, and eventually towards greater consciousness.’”
Like little Justin, I can’t help wondering, not “Do stars come out of there?” but rather, “From where does LOVE come?” Like the scientists who created the Webb Telescope, I what to know where it all began. Like the theologians who dared to question Who, What, Where, Why, How, I have questions of my own. Looking up to the wonders of the Cosmos, out there at the beauty of the Earth, yes of course, I see the face of LOVE in the REALITY of which we are a dynamic part. I see the face of LOVE in the faces of sisters and brothers whose presence has touched me, molded me, shaped me, and in the faces of those I’ve yet to meet, I pray I’m wise enough to see the face of LOVE. I have plenty of evidence upon which to base my theories and theologies when it comes to the dignity and grace of my fellow humans to know that every one of them bears the face of LOVE when they love one another. What I all too often fail to know is that I too am the face of LOVE when I love.
For LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond me just as surely as LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through and beyond you. We are made of the stuff of stars, cosmic bursts of the LIGHT which is LOVE. We were created by LOVE, out of LOVE to be LOVE. Only when we can feel the face of LOVE shining out from us can we be all that we are created to be, the living embodiment of LOVE in the world.
Remembering the child, I was way back then, in a field far away watching stars come out of a telescope as the face of DIVINITY shone in, with, through, and beyond children gathered around an old telescope, I can hardly wait to see the epiphanies which will come out of our human desire to know the unknowable. I can’t remember who said it, but it rings true in me, “GOD is what is known of that which is unknowable.” What I know of the DIVINE MYSTERY we call GOD is that GOD is the LOVE in which the Cosmos continues to evolve, and I for one don’t mind a bit that to know this LOVE, I will inevitably have to put away some treasured theologies and theories as I continue to grow into the ONE in which, I live, and move, and have my being, the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED and BREATH of LOVE.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is LOVE.”
So, peer though the light no matter how invisible it may seem. Look and see that you are the face of LOVE, here and now, in this time, in this place, you are the incarnation of LOVE. Embody the LIGHT and let it shine! LOVE comes out of you! LOVE which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, BREATHE of LOVE, now and always, Amen. Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY!
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