Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-5
"Let there be light," God says in the Genesis creation story, "and there was light." Light radiating throughout the universe at 186,000 miles per second. We know now that everything else in the universe has a variable speed relative to our own motion. But not light. Whether we are moving toward it, or away from it, the speed of light is the same. Here in a world of relativity, is an amazing constant. And, Genesis says, "God saw that the light was good.”
We know from the Big Bang theory that before there was light, there was a bursting forth of space and time. First gravity "appeared," then the strong nuclear force, followed by the weak nuclear and electromagnetic forces. As these forces define what is "natural," we may rightly describe what "preceded" the appearance of these forces as "supernatural." If not a miracle, the origin of the universe is an astounding event. And from it everything that we know has come into being. From a tiny beginning to a colossal cosmos.
And more wonders . . . Atoms, which make up all matter, are mostly empty space, and even the neutrons and protons in the nuclei of atoms are mostly empty space containing a few quarks and other elementary particles. Gravity, which holds us on the earth and solar systems and galaxies together, is easily measurable but hardly understood. Moreover, what we know of the matter in the universe is limited to 5% of the effects of matter and energy, and so scientists speak of both dark matter (to account for all the gravitational attraction in the universe) and dark energy (to refer to the force that is accelerating the speed by which galaxies are moving away from one another (caused by a repelling force that is stronger than the attracting force of gravity).
Life all around us is also amazing. Butterflies outmaneuver airplanes and helicopters. Random genetic change is rapid enough for species to adapt to changing environments but slow enough to enable species to evolve. A mocking bird sits in the tree outside my bedroom window and sings a string of different songs, while a humpback whale in the Pacific calls for a mate with long complicated melodies. Birds fly thousands of miles and, even if blown far off course, arrive safely at their summer and winter feeding grounds.
How wonderful it is that we are here and can appreciate what we call nature! Yet, we are not only observers of the natural world, but part of it. And that makes us, possibly, the most wondrous bit of creation of the cosmos. We have come from the Big Bang, but we now create our own world. Even more wonderful than the songs of birds and whales is the music of our various cultures, and all of us delight in the astonishing variety and power of the art and literature created by members of our species.
Christian faith is part of this outpouring of the human spirit in myth, art, music, personal piety, and social justice. In Christ we celebrate the mystery of the universe, in which we have known a love beyond our making. The gospel of John begins by retelling the creation story in terms of the Word that was with God and, in becoming flesh, was manifested in a life that "was the light of all people." The gospel proclaims that this "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." We are all part of this light, this life, this love.
Yet, we may take for granted the wonders of creation and so miss opportunities to be more loving and creative. Instead of being the living body of Christ in the world, the church may simply defend its doctrines. I think this is the perception of most of my children. They experience Christian teaching and worship as ignoring the wonder of creation, and as judging them for not having the right beliefs about God.
I must admit that I also find the dominant Christian message in America to be lacking the spirit of wonder. I believe the heart of Christian living is being wonder-ful to one another, rather than demanding allegiance to certain beliefs — enjoying the wondrous nature of the universe, and also continuing to wonder about our cosmic home is part of what it means to be faithful.
Through their study of science three of my children find the universe and our natural world endlessly fascinating. I love to hear them talk about their work, and I am stirred by their commitment to search for greater truth in medicine and in the natural sciences.
When my children were young I read them stories from the Bible, in the hope that these mysterious and archaic tales would take root in their souls. Grown up, my children do not read the Bible for inspiration. Yet, I know they have not forgotten these stories. My children have chosen to seek greater knowledge so they might heal and help others.
In the gospel of Thomas, verse 29, Jesus says: "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a wonder, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a wonder of wonders." I don’t pretend to know the meaning of this text, but I’m delighted to embrace life either as a wonder or a wonder of wonders! Certainly, we are flesh and spirit, and that living truth is wondrous."
June 22, 2003