Friday, March 14, 2008

Looking Into the Shallows of Space

I met one of the early designers of Google Earth last week. The application that has mapped all the dirt on the planet now includes views from our terrestrial P.O.V into the depths of space, (now available online as Or maybe we're at the depths and most directions outward are the "shallows". The point is, with the use of photos gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope we can now see galaxies billions of light years away. And we see them through the perspective of our present point in the universe.

Robin, the Google cartographer, started with a zoomed in snap of a galaxy that looked like a dusky oval in the center of the screen. He described that this point (that looked about the same size as the word "point" in this blog), was something like over 100 million light years thick. One hundred years, traveling at the speed of light from the dot over the "i" to the bottom of the "p". In that galaxy, there are millions of stars, billions of planets and other objects. He said that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, was about a tenth the size of the one we were observing.

Then he did something I have done on the flat National Geographic map of the universe. He zoomed out.

As the huge "point" sized galaxy shrunk down until it was not even visible, just a part of the black, and stars filled the sky (the stars of our own galaxy), I remembered that outside that cloud of white dots, there are billions of other galaxies. Trillions of stars, and gazillions of planets and other orbitals.

Not only do you wonder about how we could be so terra-centric that we'd think aliens would come to visit us here, but even more impossibilities rise to the surface. Like, what business did the Creator of the Universe have here among us in the form of Jesus? And even more potent, why do I think my thoughts and deeds matter one ounce compared to that immensity?

I don't know. I do know that God is purported to be infinite, and all the "omni's", including the big one, "Omnipotent". I've only experienced omnipotence once, when Blaise was a 5 year old, and playing with his friend. They were doing what boys do, some war game, this time in outer space. They made laser sounds and blew up each other's bases, and soon there was an argument, "I'm laser proof", "Oh yeah well I'm bomb proof", "Well I'm rocket proof"... and finally, "well I'm Everything Proof!!" That seemed to end it, though I wondered why someone didn't create a laser that could blow up stuff that's everything proof.

That's about as far as my pee-brain can go. God - everything proof. More immense than all that Robin could show us with Google Earth, and with that omnipotence, (infinite, remember) there is the possibility to know us down to immeasurable detail. Seems hard to imagine of course, why, with all the interesting physics of the billions of planets in this galaxy alone, how could my troubles or thrills matter to God?

I've come to a conclusion out of this. Today, I'm going to do my best to leave God alone... well not totally. I'm going to work hard to hand over thanks and encouragement, in my small way, to the One whom I believe is responsible for all this. The beauty that is. He has done an amazing thing, and my petty complaints or wants (aka "needs"), are not what God deserves.

One thing I know, this planet is NOT the only dirtball in space. I'm convinced there are others. Have we been "visited"? It doesn't matter. What is important to me today is that I resonate with the other great omni, the Omnipresence. If everywhere at once it is, then here is there enough. That is, here is one of those wheres that God touches. What do I want Him to feel as he touches this "where"? I want it to feel to Him like joy, and wonder, and above all appreciation for who He is and what He has done. Today, as for me, I'm offering God my pittance of a gift. My love. Hope He likes it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lost, and to be Found

One night, during the years when I was commuting into San Francisco on BART, I wandered around the parking lot for an hour before I realized that my car was stolen. The thought occurred to me about fifteen minutes after I got off the train. But I kept saying to myself, "it can't really be gone..." 

The disbelief of its absence was pure denial. I went up and down every aisle of the station parking lot looking left then right. From one end to the other, then back again. I covered the lot at least three times. I kept looking at the spot where I thought I'd parked it, as if it would materialize since the last time I looked there. But cars don't materialize. This one was given to me from a friend who was a pastor. It was a 1958 Ford Fairlane. I loved that car. The real treasures were in the trunk though. 

I was newly married and had filled the trunk with about $1,000 worth of wedding gifts we didn't know what to do with. The loot was headed for a thrift store, some of it, and some would be rewrapped for other wedding gifts. Something about it being stolen was infuriating. Even though I wasn't going to keep the gifts, the fact that someone just took them upset me.

Up one row, down another... until my feet hurt. I never found it. The absence was cavernous. I felt sorry for my car. And for myself. I finally resigned myself to the fact that it had been stolen, called Melinda for a ride home and found a policeman to fill out a report.

The car was discovered two years later, after we had moved to the Los Angeles area. I had to pay for a plane ticked north, parking tickets, the impound fees and towing. And of course, the trunk was empty. I drove the car back south and gave it away to a single mother who needed transportation. She may have sold it for drug money.

All the time I didn't have that car, I would reminisce about it. I tried wishing it back, and of course, none of that worked. I was just left with a gap there. My car lost forever. But when it came back to me, unexpectedly, it was a great joy. I gladly spent what it took to go retrieve it, not even knowing what condition it would be in. I was sure the years and the man-handlers who stole the car would have left nothing for me. But I was wrong. The car was almost as I had left it in the parking lot.

Might I be so lucky that everything I lose could find its way back home as though nothing was different. There are things that have, for whatever reason left my life. There are people who were an intimate part of my daily details, giving and taking words of kindness, who have now grown silent. No matter that I look to see them, even where we last spoke, they are not there. I keep coming back to that place, expecting to see their faces, or hear their voices, and have not gotten used to missing them. That's the final admission that they're not there. We'll all likely go to the grave without seeing some of those people who have made an impact on our lives.

Through some act of grace, perhaps at some unanticipated moment, I'll get a call or a notice in the mail, that something of mine will be found. A car, or a soul friend from the past. I'll come many miles and at some sacrifice either out of curiosity or for some other reason just to see that nothing, really, has changed...