by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM July 17, 2022
I’ve been carrying the ancestors especially close to my heart for the past few days, ever since I was stunned and struck mute as the first images from the Webb telescope appeared on the evening news. Such a glorious, revelatory moment! I immediately felt myself in communion with every stargazer who ever peered at the night sky, wondering what might be waiting beyond that dome. I was looking through a window that Galileo and the host of astronomers who lived in centuries past longed to see. I was invited into the dawn of time, into Mystery. And I wanted to bow down in worship.
The Webb telescope was built to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our existence. Its infrared cameras can capture things formed in the afterglow of the Big Bang. It has the potential to pull the curtain back on the formation of far-flung galaxies and to reveal the chemical signatures of planets beyond our beloved Earth.
What the Webb telescope might further reveal is not a surprise to those of us who have a primal, intuitive knowing that the dust we heard about on Ash Wednesday, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” is actually stardust, that sacred dust linking us to our relatives, the stars. We are composed of, we are filled with the cosmos!
I was carrying all of that in my consciousness a few days later when I went for my annual eye exam by my ophthalmologist. As part of his examination, he uses a machine that takes images of the inside of a person’s eye and then displays them on a computer screen. These images indicate the health of a person’s eye, revealing potential issues and concerns. I’ve seen those images every year, but this year there was no escaping the parallel. In the bursts of color, the reflected light and shadows, the delicate pattern of veins crossing over one another, the subtle glow of the whole, I felt as if I were looking at a new image from the Webb telescope. I gasped and blurted out, “The whole universe is in my eye!”
What a blessing that my ophthalmologist shared my enthusiasm! So we engaged in an animated conversation about the origins of life, the frontiers we’ve yet to discover, and the presence of the Holy in every atom of our existence.
In my heart, I know that the Webb telescope is offering us a longed for gift, an experience of “first light,” a journey back to the time when the earliest stars and galaxies began to shine, and far beyond that. I’m filled with eager anticipation expressed in a hundred questions about kinship and belonging. What might it now mean to be a child of the Universe? How do we adequately describe and define “neighbor?” In what ways might our hearts and minds need to expand to embrace life forms beyond those familiar to us? How does this revelation inform our day to day living for the good of the whole? And what might we learn about the place of death in our lives as we study the star “cemetery,” the place where stars go to die when their purpose has been fulfilled and they have reached completion? What comes next, and are our hearts ready?
As we gaze at the night sky from our Earth-bound perch, as we feel the pull of the moon, the lure of the stars, the deep knowing that the Universe is already within us, what spaciousness of heart must we now embrace to be the presence of Love in this Universe so beloved of the Holy One?
O come, let us adore!
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Go outside to view the night sky or sit inside with an image from the Webb telescope.
What moves within you as you gaze at a Universe already at home within you?
Offer words of praise and gratefulness to the Creator of such splendor.
Hold in your heart and prayer all who belong to this larger image.
Featured Image: Jeremy Thomas, Unsplash
I’m sending this blog post a few days ahead of time since I’m leaving Friday to lead my next guided retreat at Villa Pauline Retreat Center in Mendham, NJ. Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this retreat from July 15-21.
Thank you for your prayer for those who were part of the guided retreat for the Sisters of Divine Providence in Melbourne, KY that ended with my travel home July 10. I felt accompanied by your prayerful remembrance and made all my connecting flights without difficulty. Amazing! Special thanks to Sister Lucy Zientek, CDP, who attended to every detail of the retreat with such graciousness.
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