“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Awe awakens us to the world. It heightens our sensitivity to the greater whole which encompasses all life. In November, our spiritual practice is lectio universum, or contemplating the universe. The universe we live in is an ever unfolding mystery, staggeringly beautiful and astonishingly large. To look at the night sky and understand that each tiny point of light is a blazing sun humbles and amazes me, I am struck by wonder every time.
This month, I will be posting videos and readings about the glory of the universe. This week’s offering is The Known Universe, from the American Museum of Natural History. Created from a four dimensional atlas of the observable universe, its perspective moves out from the Himalayas to the edge of the universe.
I suggest the following steps in watching will help shape this as a spiritual practice; please adapt to your own needs.
Watch the video in a quiet place with no distractions. Sit for a moment and breathe deeply before starting the video.
Sit and consider your response to the video. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, fold the laundry – do something with your body and let your mind sift through images and feelings. You may also sit in silence, eyes closed, for a minute or two.
Journal your reflections, noting feelings as well as thoughts. Or, if you watched with someone else, share your responses.
Water is life. We are water. If we accept the ecological connections between ourselves and water, what does that mean for how we experience and use water in our daily lives? Here in North America, we don’t treat water particularly well, offering gifts of plastic which create a giant ocean garbage patch to gifts of polluting chemicals, as well as the careless and wasteful use of fresh water. Hope lies in communities which are working to re-imagine our inter-actions with water.
Environmental magazine Orion has an extensive article exploring new approaches to city water infrastructure, including more details about the project explored in the video. Writer Cynthia Barnett also narrates the slideshow highlighting a Seattle neighbourhood’s water project which is also an ecological art piece.
We are celebrating our Water Ceremony this Sunday at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga. This annual in-gathering ritual begins our community year using the symbol of water. People bring water from their summer experiences and pour it into our communal bowl, honouring the community which brings us together, reminding us of our shared connections. Every day this week, I’ll post poems, stories and videos about the value and beauty of water.
While his description of humans as “blobs of water” is not poetic (!), David Suzuki in his book The Legacy of Nature reminds us of our deep ecological dependence on water.
“A visitor from another galaxy would surely call our planet Water, not Earth. Seventy-one per cent of the planet’s surface is covered by oceans. If the globe were a perfectly smooth sphere, water would cover it to a depth of 2.7 kilometres. The air is filled with water vapour that condenses as clouds. Above the great Amazon rainforest, trees pull water from the ground and transpire it upward, where it flows in great rivers of vapour toward the Andes.
Every person in the world is at least 60 per cent water by weight. We are basically blobs of water with enough organic thickener mixed in to prevent us from dribbling away on the floor. The hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation, and rain ensures that water cartwheels around the planet. We are part of the hydrologic process. Every drink we take has water molecules that evaporated from the canopies of every forest in the world, from all the oceans and plains.” (pg.76)
We are water.
Fourth century Christian bishop Augustine wrote “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” Time is the kind of concept that makes my brain hurt if I really try to fully understand what it means. Yet we live our lives so precisely by the counting of time; every appliance and gadget has a clock on it. We always know what time it is, but do we know what time is?
Alan Alda, an actor and science fan, has a yearly challenge to scientists: to explain scientific concepts in a way that 11 year olds can understand. After a panel of scientist. s reviews the entries, eleven year olds across the United States choose the best answer. Last year the Flame Challenge was to explain what a flame is; this year the question is “What is time?”
I love this question and I think it is a great one for a Unitarian service or a religious education class. What is time? Is it the counting of the clock? The linear passage of life through space? How is time related to space? Is it an arrow, moving straight from the past to the future or is it, as the Doctor says, more timey-wimey and wibbley wobbley – whatever that may mean? What does time mean to Unitarian Universalists? We tend towards a theological focus on the here and now, on being present in place. We don’t argue for eternity. So what does time to mean to us? If we understood time better, would it help us to be present in the now? Exploring the concept of time seems like an illuminating opportunity, a way to make connections between science and wonder.
Time is a great mystery – worthy of our contemplation – even if we can never hope to fully understand it. I’m looking forward to hearing from the scientists tough enough to try.
I’m switching the Monday Meditation to Friday and hope to blog earlier in the week – and more often – on aspects of Unitarian Universalism.
I am a child of the universe. Born shortly after the geodesic futuristic visions of the Montreal Expo, I grew up after the moon landing, watching the “big blue marble” on TVO. I spent my younger years watching re-runs of the original Star Trek, Doctor Who, and then came Star Wars. I loved the Star Wars trilogy and watched it each and every time it showed up on television (these were the days even before vcrs.) I wanted to be out there, having space adventures, meeting aliens of every colour, saving the galaxy. I love the image of stars rushing past and use it as my screensaver. Continue reading
I find the natural world fascinating, full of absurdly beautiful creatures, so rewarding to a patient observer. Many years ago we lived in an apartment that had its share of domestic wildlife – squirrels and raccoons lived in the attic, mice in the walls. Our kitchen was home to black ants. I tried to deter them in unsuccessful, non-toxic ways and would sweep them away or step on them when I saw them. One day I was cleaning up our round kitchen table and saw a black ant perched near the edge. I had raised my hand to sweep it off when I realized that the ant was cleaning its face and antennae just like my cats. It was stroking its antennae like a minature black panther. This kinship with my beloved cats was astonishing to me, and I sat on a chair and watched the ant for at least five minutes. Black, with a not-quite-glossy sheen, delicate legs and antennae, the ant was gorgeous. In the days after, I found myself watching the ants trundle around the countertops, gently shooing them out of the way, lifting them out of places I didn’t want them. If they fell in the sink when I was doing the dishes I would fish them out and set them curled up on the counter; after a time, in which I was sure they were dead, they would stretch out and shake off the water, and wander off. I haven’t been able to hurt an ant since.
This memory came back after I saw this book trailer for Step Gently Out, a poem about paying attention to the world. It feels like a message we need to hear over and over again. Written by Helen Frost, with photos by Rick Leider, it reminds of all the wonders that exist in our backyards and urban spaces. The creatures of this earth are marvellous.
What is a flame? When we light the chalice at the beginning of our service, what are we physically bringing into being to symbolize our spiritual orientation? Can you explain it to an 11 year old?
The Centre for Communicating Science has a new challenge inspired by the always more awesome than awesome Alan Alda. As an 11 year old, Alda asked his teacher “what is a flame?’ She replied “oxidation”, an answer that may be accurate but certainly did not provide illumination for the young Alda. Alan Alda, who is not only a world class actor – the only man who ever made me want to vote for a Republican nominee – as well as a writer of humour, honesty and wisdom (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed); he is also a science geek. Invited to be a guest editor of the journal Science, he offered up the flame challenge. Describe what a flame is in a way that an 11 year old can appreciate and understand. The goal is to acheive clarity and vividness.
This is a great contest for Unitarian Universalists. Our key symbol, that which represents us most deeply, is the flaming chalice. We are the people of the chalice; part of our orientation is to find spiritual nourishment in the wonder of scientific enquiry. How do we understand what we are doing when we light the chalice? How is the symbol related to the reality? How do we describe it to ourselves? To people who ask us what the chalice is all about? And can we explain the beauty of a flame without using jargon, but with scientific accuracy, in a way that will capture a kid’s imagination? Can we explain our chalice flame to an 11 year old?
The contest closes April 2nd. I’m working on my entry….