Tag Archives: universe

Scope of belief and scale of revelation

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father: all creation worships you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. (BCP 95)

As I sit on my patio saying Morning Prayer I am thinking about the scope of belief and the scale of revelation.

Creation

“All creation worships you” we say in the Te Deum laudamus, the ancient canticle of praise.

The scope of our belief is not just the seemingly endless universe spanning 14 billion light-years, but the power of God himself, the “Father, of majesty unbounded” — that is, beyond all our measuring and all our perception.

And yet the scale of revelation is that even the chirping of the birds on this misty morning speaks to me of the nature of creation, of its goodness.

Church

“Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you.”

At our Deacons’ Council meeting yesterday, we spoke with Bishop Matt Gunter about the Diocese of Fond du Lac joining in a companion relationship with another diocese in the Anglican Communion.

He shared his experience with the Diocese of Renk in South Sudan, and others on the council spoke of mission trips to Guadalajara, Mexico or to Lima, Peru.

The bishop of our neighboring Diocese of Eau Claire, one of the smallest in the Episcopal Church, is visiting their companion Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe, one of the largest in the Anglican Communion.

Our belonging to that worldwide Church is mediated to us, brought to scale, through relationships with people in our own parishes or in the places we visit.

We participate in that worldwide acclamation by joining others around the altar for Communion on Sundays and praying the Offices as fellow-Christians do in every time zone around the globe.

The Church is brought to human scale by people in a parish and pages in a book. They are the signs to me that I belong.

Daily Office Basics

 

Human Scale

But these small-scale revelations draw me back out into consideration of a mystery.

Like the people around me, who show me God in their faces, and like the book that contains the words of the Scriptures and the prayers of the Church — like these, God comes to us in human scale.

“The Father, of majesty unbounded” is known to us in the person of Jesus, his “true and only Son, worthy of all worship.”

The mystery that we call the Incarnation is all about scope and scale.

In a specific person who lived in a specific place at a specific time, the God who is beyond all knowing chose to reveal something of himself to us.

And in that revelation, our notions of scope and scale are turned upside down and we begin to see ourselves as God sees us.

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

Listen to the chirping of birds in the garden, to the witness of the people around you, to the words of the prayers and the Scriptures.

For those who have ears to hear, that human scale reveals a love of limitless scope.

 

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Pay attention to how you listen (and look)

For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. (Wisdom 13:7)

The writer of the book of Wisdom expresses a theme common to our discussion of science and faith.

Either the amazing beauty of millions of galaxies testifies to the creative power of God, or the distant stars bear mute witness to the emptiness and loneliness of our plight.

It matters how you look.

For the Wisdom writer, those who “live among his works” but who are “still searching” haven’t looked closely enough or carefully enough.

They’ve seen the beauty of creation, but haven’t recognized the Creator.

They’ve clicked on the image in this post, the most detailed image ever compiled of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Perhaps they’ve noticed that it contains 1.5 billion pixels, but they haven’t comprehended “the bright immensities” (Hymn 459) that span what little we can see of the universe — more than 14 billion light years back into time.

The Wisdom writer goes on to wonder, “If they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?” (Wisdom 13:9).

In the Gospel passage appointed for this morning, Jesus has just gotten through explaining the parable of the sower to his disciples (spoiler alert: they didn’t get it) and is trying another example on them, the parable of the lamp under a jar.

Jesus interrupts himself — I picture him rolling his eyes at a bewildered James and John (the “dunderheads” as John the evangelist calls them) — and says “Pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, much more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away” (Luke 8:18).

Pay attention to how you listen.

When they come to him and say, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside” and he replies “my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” then pay attention to hearing the word of God.

When you are in trouble and cry out that everything is hopeless, and Jesus replies “Where is your faith?” — then pay attention to the Word of God himself!

It matters how you listen, and it matters to whom you listen.

In the middle of a swirling storm, in the howling wind and the snap and strain of the lines, in the cries of the disciples pulling at the oars, Jesus speaks softly and the storm responds in kind.

In the tug and pull of relationships Jesus says “notice,” and the lines of the family are redrawn. And in the real anxieties and worries of your life, Jesus says “just a little faith is enough.”

Even in the rendering of starlight that you’re looking at on your smartphone, God the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen,” says “Here I am.”

So pay attention to how you listen (and look).

Surpassing human understanding

My God It's Full of Stars

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

In my Education for Ministry (EfM) group at St. Thomas Church is a priest who was ordained in 1955, about thirteen years before I was born.

He has embraced a sort of “second beginning” in his retirement, studying Old Testament all over again last year and now the New Testament this year. He has even gotten a scholarship to sign up for an online course in Biblical Hebrew!

In our reflections yesterday afternoon he shared his sense of wonder that the God who created everything that is — the universe, galaxies, stars, and planets — is present to us in the person of Jesus. “I’m having a hard time taking it all in,” he said.

After the Gospel reading at Morning Prayer today, we responded with Canticle 19:

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done,
surpassing human understanding. (BCP 94)

It was in the light of this sense of wonder that I read Rabbi Daniel Brenner’s article about Bob Pollack, a Columbia University professor who teaches science to clergy.

The clergy in his class get restless and agitated when Pollack describes the universe’s origin “in a tiny particle fourteen and a half billion years ago,” but he responds with a lovely reflection on the second creation account in Genesis (2:4-25), which we also read this morning.

Look at Genesis. In Genesis the entire universe is made from words. The earth and sky and every plant and animal are made through God’s speech. But humans are not made in this way — God synthesizes humans from nature, from dirt, from a mix of organic and inorganic. In other words, we are made of live things and dead things. And we are the first example of chemistry and of transformation. As a result, we are the first species to have developed the ability to understand the bio-chemistry of the natural world. For this reason we are called “in God’s image.”

To the clergy’s objection (which I share) that understanding the natural world isn’t enough, Pollack also asked, “So what knowledge other than scientific knowledge do we need to thrive as humans?”

We also need, as we usually pray on Mondays at Morning Prayer, God’s help to “drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks” (BCP 99).

We need each day to reconnect to the God whose “ways are ways of righteousness and truth.”

May your sense of awe and wonder at God’s creation also lead you day by day to seek God’s help, and “may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 339).