March 16, 2012

God breathing

Psalm 33:6, ICEL

God speaks: the heavens are made;
God breathes: the stars shine.

Detail from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field imageAbout 10,000 galaxies appear in the Hubble ultra-deep-field image. A detail is shown to the left, and the full image is at the bottom of this post. It’s a real picture, not an artist’s rendition, and some of the galaxies in it are more than 13 billion years old.

Last week I had a dream in which I’m walking steadily up a hill, and I’m about five paces from the top. But no matter how many steps I take, I can’t crest the hill. The view stays the same: under my feet it’s an empty, dry-grass hillside. Everywhere else, space. Galaxies, stars, and nebulae are laid out before me, with inky blackness between them. No trees, houses, telephone poles, or mountains are on the horizon, and no clouds, moon, haze, or planets are in the sky. Only the unimpeded view of deep space.

It’s dazzling. Overwhelming. I plod forward because I’m scared to stop and look up. Reaching the other side of this hill seems like a worthy and achievable goal, and if I stop walking … well, a nameless fear grips me at this point. I don’t know why this vista of space in my dream scares the pants off me, but it does.

I have a lot of free time right now, and it won’t last forever. I’d like to slow down and be present to the time that I’ve been given, but some other part of me thinks it would be best to keep my feet moving towards a worthy and seemingly achievable goal, even if all that does is make me look busy.

So the gift of my dream is this idea: What if I dared to spend more time gazing, less time in motion?

When I imaginatively reenter my dream and picture myself stopping, lying on my back in the grass, and looking up, I see myself utterly undone by terror. (Again, I really can’t put words on why!) Okay, wide-eyed staring would be too much.

But I also see that to glance up and around for a moment, just a short moment, is significant. This act changes me, and maybe (who knows?) it changes the universe itself.

Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF) image

Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) image, Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see a larger version of it.

The cross-section of sky shown in the image is about the size of a 1 mm by 1 mm piece of paper held at arm’s length. To observe the entire sky in such detail, the Hubble would need to operate continuously for a million years. To see pictures of other mind-blowing sights in our universe, visit the Hubble gallery.