A Christmas Eve Contemplation – What We Don’t See
by Christina Carson
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking: Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.
So goes the Bible in the traditional Christmas story. A far more mystical account of these men and their star-led journey is preserved in an eighth-century C.E. Syriac manuscript held in the Vatican Library. But since we live in an age where mystical experiences are too often regarded as lunatic babbling, we miss out on the possibility that the intelligence of the universe may be the sanest of all.
Lucky for us some great magi of contemporary science imagined and created the Hubble telescope so that the utter awe the universe has to offer is not lost on us. For in 1996, a group of scientists having secured their perhaps, once in a lifetime chance to use the Hubble, a telescope that orbits beyond earth’s distorting atmosphere, took the risk of pointing it at an utterly empty bit of space near the big dipper, an area the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. They opened its magic window to the worlds beyond and for ten days collected the photons travelling toward us from outer space. The photons’ light was quite feeble, for as it turned out, they had been travelling for 13 billion years before ending up in Hubble’s detectors. But what they revealed, which to us on earth looked like no more than a black, empty spot in our sky, was the existence of 3,000 galaxies, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars.
In 2004, after several years of refining and improving Hubble, the great telescope was again pointed toward another bit of empty sky this time near Orion. For 11 days, Hubble opened its astronomic arms to photons travelling toward earth. Even more light was gathered, and this particular spot of blackness in our sky was seen to contain 10,000 galaxies (the ultra-deep field), this light having left its source when our galaxy was only 500 million years old.
The Syriac manuscript depicts the magi as a group of mystical monks perhaps living in China, descendants of Seth, the righteous third son of Adam. Their story was of a star that not only shone in the heavens, but descended to earth as a star-child that assisted them on their terribly long journey to Jerusalem where the star then reappeared as the luminous child of light we call Jesus.
I accept both the Hubble and the magi’s experience as fantastic accounts our cosmos has gifted us with: an empty black space in our sky that actually contains 10,000 galaxies each consisting hundreds of billions of stars and a star-child, a being of light who ultimately offers us a view of our cosmos as an experience of Oneness that science has only now stumbled into as quantum reality.
Rumi says in one of his many poetic attempts to inform us of a reality most know little about:
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.
And is not a star-child at least as beautiful a notion as hundreds of billions of stars that are there in our sky we cannot see? Your heart will show you the star-child; Hubble will let you view the ultra-deep field. Both forms of intelligence are necessary to living successfully in this universe.
And yet, Dostoevsky contends:
Mankind will be saved by beauty.
And is it not the heart that tends to notice beauty first?
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