“What are you doing earth – in heaven? / Tell me – what are you doing – silent earth?”
I recalled this two-line poem by Giuseppe Umbaretti (1888–1970) recently because in the last two weeks the relationship between heaven and earth has come sharply into focus in a new 13-episode Fox television series called “Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey” that explores the beginnings of the universe. It is narrated by the astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that scientists have detected in patterns of gravity waves in the radiation that lingers in space that they believe is the faint afterglow of the big bang. Before, the big bang was only a theory of the universe’s origins, but with this discovery astrophysicists and astronomers believe that the big bang actually occurred 14 billion years ago.
“Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey” has stunning graphics and spectacular photography, so it is a magnificent series to watch. As I experienced that first episode I was struck by awe and wonder and by how very small we human beings are against the staggering size of the cosmos and the enormity of time that has passed since the big bang.
In the first episode Dr. Tyson sought to make intelligible the enormity of cosmic time by placing the events of the last 14 billion years on a single one-year cosmic calendar.
The first two hundred million years, he said, were quiet, but then things began to happen. The first stars appeared on January 10, thousands of galaxies emerged on January 13, and hundreds of billions of suns on March 13. The birth of our own sun came much later, on August 31, four and a half billion years ago.
On September 21 life began. On December 17 sea creatures filled the oceans. The first flower bloomed on December 28, and on December 30 a great asteroid crashed into the earth wiping into extinction the dinosaurs.
On December 31,at precisely 11:59 PM and 46 seconds, 14 seconds before the cosmic year ended at mid-night, our human ancestors stood erect, walked the earth, looked up, and contemplated the cosmos.
Consider how far we’ve advanced in just the last 57 years since Sputnik and 35 years since Neil Armstrong walked the lunar surface.
Where formerly imagination and the spirit world claimed heaven as their domain, the space age has enabled us humans to enter that formerly inaccessible realm.
Everything connected with our space program has brought us deeper scientific knowledge and achievements the ancients could not have imagined.
The staggering immensity of it all boggles the mind. Science is now postulating, as religion has always affirmed, that every species of life, tens of thousands of diverse forms, have come from a single atom exploding in the big bang.
This recognition of our oneness with the universe is where science and faith come together. Both inspire surprise and awe. Both evoke appreciation and gratitude. And in our hearts our response can only be one based in love, because in oneness we understand that all things, all creatures and all existence belong to each other, are a part of one another and share together our one universe.
We live, each of us, in a sea of energy that moves all things forward. Our task is to attune ourselves to that flow of energy, to the life of the world and the surprise of being, that we might flow with the greater family of life, and become one with the same force that moves the sun, moon and stars.
Our yearning to belong and be a part of that oneness is fulfilled when we give back of ourselves in love to others and the world, thereby preserving and perpetuating what has been given to us.