Stardust

 W.F. Bellais II

Outer space is a fascination that continues to call me to look more and more to the heavens. When I am in places where there is little or no artificial light at night I get a thrill as I scan the darkened sky.

The photos of galaxies and new stars being born hold my interest for a long time. I am enthralled by photos from the Mars landers. In all of those things I see something very special that calls me to give thanks for this vast universe in which we live.

I often have a sensation that I am a passenger on a space ship, and all of you are fellow passengers with me. I don’t mean a “Star Wars” space ship; the space ship I am thinking of is the earth itself.

The photograph of the earth taken from the moon or a photograph taken from a satellite opened my eyes to see that we are living on a sphere that travels through space and rotates so that every side of our sphere gets the benefits of our sun.

The late Carl Sagan used to tell us that we are made of star dust. I found that idea one of the most satisfactory statements ever made by a popular scientist. Currently my interest in the heavens is being captured by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who appears on a Public Broadcasting System program called NOVA Science NOW.

In one episode Tyson pointed out that human beings are made up four basic elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Then he went on tell his listeners that the planets of the galaxies are made up of the same basic elements. In other words, we are creatures of the universe. We are a part of a vast system of life and order that is often beyond our ability to grasp.

He then took a poke at the notion espoused by some Christian Fundamentalists of “Intelligent Design,” which I believe is not a topic suitable for the science classroom. Science has the mission of searching for answers and those dedicated to that search should not relegate the unexplainable to Intelligent Design. I agree with that point of view. However, that does not negate my hope and faith in a living Deity that has set us on our courses in life. In my personal theology I see God giving to humanity a desire to know about the created universe. Where did it come from? Where did we come from? Why is life so diverse on this planet but not others in our solar system? These are questions God wants us to answer.

The Creation Story in Genesis has God giving life to a human being in order to have someone with whom to share the creation. God wanted a being that could talk with God, share ideas, and discover with God the full scope of creation. But let me be totally clear, I am not a so-called “Creationist.” I believe the creation stories in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Genesis are there to reinforce the importance of the sabbath rest. The stories in the Bible were never told as scientific fact. They are the legend of Hebrew ancestry. Nevertheless, the deeper understanding between lore and fact does not diminish the truth and beauty of the story.

Just about every culture has a creation narrative. For example, the Zuñis of the Southwest tell a story of a river or mud god coming out of a stream near the Zuñi Pueblo and from that emergence the Zuñi people were created. Most creation stories tell us that we are made from the elements of the earth. That’s also the Zuñi tradition. On Ash Wednesday many have their foreheads marked with ash as the priest says, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” At funerals priests cast earth on the coffin and say, “In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother or sister, and we commit his or her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust….”

That earth or dust is composed of the four basic elements of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. In the coffin are the remains of a human being who is composed of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. There it is we are made of the elements of the universe, star dust, to which we will return.

How all that has happened remains a mystery, but it is a mystery I believe, God wants us to solve. Somehow as humanity emerged from the primal swamp an expectation that humanity would engage the world and attempt to understand the universe. I suppose humanity is something like a child at school. The human effort to understand first attributed events to gods who would be capricious and angry. Then a singular God who revealed the Deity through the Spirit, and now the grandeur of that creation is being revealed through the intellect God placed into the human spirit. As school children I suspect humanity has just crossed into the seventh grade with many trials and tribulations until full knowledge is obtained.

This is a strange thing for me to be thinking about. I had a terrible time with science in high school and college. Physics, the most difficult study for me, did real damage to my undergraduate GPA. Nevertheless, I see and understand the value of this knowledge and I attribute it as a spiritual gift.

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