Scene: Just after a downpour. The clouds have withdrawn, the sun is shining, bells are ringing, and birds are chirping here in Santa Clara. How long this will last, I do not know (probably fifteen minutes), but duration makes no difference. It has happened, here in this one little spot on tiny planet Earth, incongruously self-important, some 27,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way.
I was talking to a Jesuit friend in Chicago yesterday, who reminded me of the 1,000 billion (= 1 trillion) galaxies out there, almost all of them getting swallowed up by black holes. Whenever I try to grasp these things (which is impossible), Psalm 8 comes to mind:
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars that you set in place—
Who are we that you are mindful of us…?
Yet you have made us little less than gods,
crowned us with glory and honor.
Those last two lines might be up for debate, at least in terms of what we’ve done with all that glory and honor. But the Psalm does get to the heart of the mystery of being human, that there exists this creature (radically imperfect) that can nonetheless contemplate lofty things, and that stands as the “intersection,” as it were, between matter and spirit.
Then, last night, I was watching “Chernobyl” on PBS. As I was drawn into the story, it struck me that the Chernobyl disaster stands today as a metaphor for the times in which we are living, the unimaginable mess that we’ve made of things in society and politics, in some aspects of the church as well–and, of course, of Mother Earth. (I don’t need to go into the details here…) It’s a lesson on hubris, self-sabotage, and denial of truth. We live in an age of nightmares become reality.
So what redeems us? Beauty, for one. The chirping of the birds each morning comes as reassuring music from the gods, and the drama of a flower (soon Mr. Cactus Head will show forth his glory) is itself a miracle. And music (for me, mostly classical, but also some jazz). And art. More deeply still, enduring friendship. I am also fond of one of the readings from today’s Mass, from the Book of Revelation:
…The old order has passed away.
Behold, I make all things new.
Those, for me, are words of joyous freedom and unbridled hope. For redemption does not all depend on us, even though we stand in a privileged position in the created order. I am reminded of all this when I look up to the blue sky, or, on a dark night behold a new moon.