Thursday 5 January 2023

Dwelling in God’s Beloved Cosmos

“For God so loved the world….”

–John 3:16a

Do you like to gaze at the stars? I do. My only complaint is that all the artificial light pollution in Toronto makes it difficult to see more than just the brightest ones. If I am lucky, sometimes I will see the Big Dipper, the North Star, or Orion’s Belt. I am always astonished, however, whenever I leave the bright lights of the city and am able to make out the dusty white band of the Milky Way or witness the sheer infinity of heavenly bodies that become visible in darker conditions.

I’m not sure why I like looking at stars. They can make you feel frighteningly small and insignificant. As Blaise Pascal laments in his Pensées: “When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me….”

I sometimes wonder if the cold and meaningless universe that secular modernity insists upon, and which so terrified Pascal, can be reconciled with the world that scripture calls a cosmos (Greek kosmos, kosmon), the world bathed in God’s creating and healing love. Our reason alone will never tell us that the universe is such a cosmos, even as our hearts, if we listen to them, keep stubbornly insisting that it is so.

Pascal also said that “the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of,” and with Pascal, I believe we must attend to these heart-reasons. They connect us to something real and vitally important, and their message is more than mere projection or wishful thinking. I have never been able to understand how people can consider the “cold and meaningless universe” picture to be nothing but a simple, neutral description of the facts, and not an interpretive spin emerging from the modern secular assumption that the only possible meaning anything can have is the meaning we impose ourselves. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the universe became cold and silent the very moment we closed ourselves to the possibility that it might speak with its own voice.

One of the main reasons I like to look up at the stars, then, is because doing so makes me spiritually porous. What I see is also seen by many different others, both far and near, and this helps me feel connected to everyone and everything around me. In those moments, I experience something of the God-loved cosmos, the good world where humans dwell below the dome of sky, populated with an infinity of lights, all made with love by the Creator of the stars of night.

As we move forward from Christmas into Epiphany, we finally recall the way a star marked Jesus’ very birthplace, the humble stable where he was wrapped in rags. As we enter the new year, I wish you all the peace announced in our Messiah’s coming: Emmanuel, God with us!

Shalom, my friends!

Ron Kuipers