Have you seen the news reports this week about the design and scope of our universe?
A new paper in the Astrophysical Journal claims that there are ten times as many galaxies in the universe as was once thought. That would bring the total number of galaxies to about two trillion. Most of you know that I am no scientist. I cannot even begin to comprehend what this means – except that it reminds me of how small and insignificant I am. And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.
There is a story told about Teddy Roosevelt, who certainly had high selfregard. It is told that when camping out under the Western skies with his friend the naturalist William Beebe, he used to engage in a kind of ritual chant before going to sleep.
“That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda,” Roosevelt would declare, pointing to the sky to a small patch of light near the constellation of Pegasus. “It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” The president would then turn to Beebe and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”
Given the size and scope of the universe, we are small and insignificant indeed. Yet the news of the universe for some reason brought to mind words of Dame Julian of Norwich, the great English Christian mystic of the 14th century. She once looked at something very small and insignificant, a hazelnut, and yet saw much:
“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.” — Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
In the smallest of things, Julian saw the fullness of God’s creation. In every human life, the beauty of God is fully present. Julian had eyes to see that. My hope is that we do as well, whether we gaze upon a hazelnut, into another’s eyes, or even look into the depths of our sometimes anxious or fretful hearts.
God made us. God loves us. God keeps us. Thanks be to God.