“Naming the Unnamable: God as the Cause of Wonder”

Psalm 139: 17 – 18 – Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

Daniella and I just returned from a trip. A trip to the moon! Not exactly. But we did visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where this picture was taken a few months ago. The Kennedy Space Center is called the Greatest Space Adventure on Earth! It is the only place on planet earth where you can see the real space shuttle Atlantis, touch a moon rock, tour a NASA spaceflight facility and meet a veteran NASA astronaut all in one day. Kennedy Space Center is named after President John F. Kennedy who famously declared in 1961 that the U.S. would put an astronaut on the moon and bring that person safely back to earth, before the end of the decade. Sure enough, on July 16, 1969 Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off for the moon from Kennedy Space Center. This year we celebrate the 50 year anniversary of that historic event. When I look at the moon at night, I still find myself absolutely astonished that we put a human being on the moon. The moon is approximately 238,000 miles away!

We live in a vast universe. How big is the universe? One of our newest members, Gaby Canalizo, who is an Astrophysicist and teaches Astronomy at UC Riverside shared this video with me. It helps to put everything in perspective. (Show video.)  We live in a really big universe! The edge of the universe is roughly 90 billion trillion miles away, give or take a million miles. And the universe is expanding! The solar system that we live in fills less than a trillionth of available space. Everything astronomers can see is less than ½ of 1 percent of the content of the universe.  According to Gaby, there may be multiple universes! We are struck by an “unmitigated wonder.” Who could believe it? Who could conceive it? Einstein says, “Every thinking person must be filled with awe and wonder just by looking up at the stars.” What the scientist, the poet, the philosopher, the theologian have in common is this:  wonder! So, it is that today we lift up the theme God as the Cause of Wonder.

In the 1970s, the great cosmological mystery was this: If the Big Bang was symmetrical in all directions, why isn’t the expanding universe today just a bigger soup of particles? Instead, beautiful spiral and elliptical galaxies are scattered throughout, but not randomly. They lie along invisible filaments, like glitter tossed on lines of glue. As he Psalmist declares, the heavens declare your glory.  This is the beauty we see in the “heavens.”

Show pictures:

  1. This is a picture sent to me by one of RUCC’s long time resident astronomers – Jim Sommer.
  2. This is entitled the “Pillars of Creation” Nebula. A nebula is a cloud of gas and dust in outer space.
  3. The Bubble Nebula
  4. The Crab Nebula
  5. The Mystic Mountain Nebula
  6. This is entitled “Twisters in Lagoon” Nebula
  7. A Rose Made out of Galaxies
  8. Majestic Sombrero Galaxy

(For video and pictures please see: https://redlandsucc-my.sharepoint.com/:p:/g/personal/office_uccredlands_org/EeB8k-h78vFEhrTBh1-x-78BNjqU6nD7PUdEggwU2KJw_g?e=Ku2dDf)

The universe is big and beautiful. It is said that the universe is the primary revelation of the divine, the primary scripture. Aquinas observes, “Not only are individual creatures images of God but so too is the whole cosmos.” Thomas Berry asks, “What is at the heart of the universe? Celebration! It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself.” God is beautiful and God loves beauty! The heavens declare your glory, O God!

As we talk about the wonder of this vast cosmos, so, too, we can speak of the wonder of the smallest creation. That is we can go in the opposite direction. In the 1800s, atoms were discovered. Atoms are really small. A single grain of sand contains 22 quintillion atoms (that’s 22 with 18 zeroes). An atom is in size to a golf ball as a golf ball is in size to Earth. That is really small. But atoms are made up of even smaller parts called protons, neutrons and electrons. Do you remember this from your chemistry days? The protons and neutrons are in the center of the atom, called the nucleus, which is one-millionth of a billionth of the volume of the atom. If an atom were blown up to the size of a stadium, the nucleus would be the size of a grain of rice, but it would weigh more than the stadium. Huh? Now, that causes me to wonder.

Technology was developed to split that particles which led to the discovery that those particles are made up of even smaller particles which are made up of even smaller particles which are made of even smaller particles. Down and down it went, smaller and smaller, further and further into the subatomic world. Maybe some of you have heard of quarks, natures building block – and those quarks come in a variety of types – up quarks, down quarks, top quarks, bottom quarks, charmed quarks and strange quarks.

Most popular images of the atom led us to believe that it was like a solar system, with the protons and neutrons in the center like the sun and electrons orbiting the center like the planets. This is not always the case, however. Those electrons disappear in one place and then appear in another place without traveling the distance between. This is called quantum leaps. One physicist says that if you are not outraged by quantum physics, then you don’t understand quantum physics. I don’t understand quantum physics, but I still believe this is outrageous – and definitely a cause of wonder.

The world surprises us. It surprises scientists, too, on a regular basis. The universe causes us to wonder! Carl Sagan wisely noted, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” 

Get this — a human being is halfway between the largest size we can comprehend, the width of the known universe, and the smallest size discovered thus far in the universe. And if our Earth were slightly closer to the sun we’d all cook and if it were slightly farther away we’d all freeze. That causes me to wonder.

And we human beings are fascinating. Our bodies are made up of around 75 trillion cells. But you are more than the sum of your parts just as a novel is more than mere words or a song is more than mere notes. Within this body of flesh and bones, there are emotions that you feel in the presence of great art or music or literature. There are acts of selfless courage as found in Gandhi or Kin. You are more than the sum of your parts. Rumi says, “There is a universe within you.” Likewise, the scientists say that we are star dust. When we read about aging singers or actors who used to be stars – yes, of course they were …we all used to be stars. We are star dust. On Ash Wednesday, we say, “Remember that from dust you come and to dust you return.” Perhaps, most appropriately, it is stardust.

There is an explosive, expansive, surprising, creative energy that surges through us, through quarks, through the cosmos. This cosmic electricity, this divine energy powers and energizes and sustains us all. The Psalms refer to it as the ruach of God. It is wider than the universe, powerful enough to fuel the stars, and yet ruach is as intimate and personal as your breath and those moments that take your breath away.

Indeed, life is a miracle! Life is a wondrous miracle of awe and amazement – you, me, love, quarks, the cosmos. It’s all miraculous. And it is why I call the Divine, the Cause of Wonder! Amen.

  • Thank you to Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration, which aided me significantly in the writing of this sermon.