Worlds Apart: Exploring Our Natural Wiring To Seek Cosmic Connections.

We live on an amazing planet! It is a planet that is beautiful, fruitful, and delicate. It is a planet that allows us to exist and provides the means for us to live well. Beyond our material needs, our planet also provides a canvas of wonder for the human soul. Whether it is studying the smallest particles under a microscope or the grandeur of distant galaxies through a telescope, our common home allows us to ask the big questions of life.

Iconic Earthrise photo from Apollo 8. Credit: Astronaut Bill Anders.

As technology has advanced, so has our understanding of our common home. One hundred years ago, it would have been science fiction to think we would view the Earth from the Moon, Mars or Saturn.  These images of our small home have become iconic, sparking many to appreciate our fragility and protect its delicate equilibrium.

A while back, I was in awe looking at satellite images of the Saharan dust storms. It never occurred to me that dust from Africa could find its way to the Americas. These dust storms do many good things like fertilizing the Amazon region and build beaches in the Caribbean. As awe inspiring as these storms are, they also come with a downside. Though some may see the suppression of hurricanes as a good thing, the dusts that stretch over the Atlantic block sunlight and contribute to  the decrease of coral reefs. (Click on this link for more from NASA's article: Tracing Dust Across the Atlantic.)

Animation of Saharan dust storm drifting over the Atlantic. Graphic Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory.

Charon. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

A few months ago, NASA shared images and information about more "floating stuff." However, this discovery wasn't on our planet, but on Pluto's largest moon Charon. When scientists from the New Horizons team studied the odd, brownish-red patch on Charon, they learned that the discoloration is material from Pluto. The theory put forward is that methane that escapes from Pluto's thin atmosphere gets trapped in Charon's gravity and freezes on the moon's surface. As an art enthusiast, I appreciated how NASA titled the article containing these findings: Pluto "Paints" Its Largest Moon Red.

Though the dust of the Sahara and the methane of Pluto are two, very different realities, there is something in our human wiring that wants to connect these events. Just as we see a little bit of Africa in South America and a little bit of Pluto on Charon, we also want to see a little bit of Pluto on Earth and vice versa. The human soul is wired to find connections, yearning to see our universe as a cosmic unity.

Another example of our desire to make cosmic connections can be found in NASA's latest news release about Pluto. Using scientific tools that measure the Earth's weather, NASA has discovered features on Pluto that, until now, were unique to Earth. Reference to snow and ice features called "penitentes" makes me, a Catholic priest, think of the confessional. Ironically, the confessional isn't to far off from why these formations are called penitentes. These ice features were called penitentes because, supposedly, they looked like Franciscan Monks going to confession. Personally, I don't see it.

Penitentes Image Credit: Babak A. Tafreshi on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, there is always an excitement I encounter when the sciences discover something "up there" that is found "down here." The sobering moment is when you begin to delve into the particulars of these discoveries, seeing a greater dissimilarity than similarity in these findings. Though the discovery of penitentes on Pluto points to a common trait that both Pluto and the Earth have atmospheres, the reality of this similarity points to two, separate realities. The ice and snow on Pluto is not water, but methane. The temperatures on Pluto and Cheron that allow Methane to freeze are unthinkably cold even when compared to our coldest days on Earth. The deeper we plumb the depths of what these worlds are makes us realize the strange, beautiful uniqueness each world contains. Yet, the nature of human curiosity still inspires us to want to know these worlds in the hope of gaining new insight into our world and our lives.

Penitentes on Pluto Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

From the perspective of faith, the human person also desires to make connections between our world and the divine. Whether it be our language of God as a Community of Love, Jesus' call to establish the Kingdom of God, or the realization that the Second Person of the Trinity took on our human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, we desire to see in our experience of love, community, and interpersonal relationships a hint of the sacred.

However, to reduce the love of God to human love, to reduce the Kingdom of God to a worldly kingdom, and to reduce Jesus Christ to just another person you run into on the street misses that fact that, despite the commonality of language we find between us and God, there is often a greater dissimilarity when these aspects of faith are explored. It isn't that the love of God is absent from human love, but human love points to a love far deeper than we can possibly image. It isn't that human communities are devoid of the idea of the Kingdom of God, but human communities contain hints of a far more beautiful vision of a Kingdom that isn't dependent upon the social structures of this world. And it isn't that our interpersonal relationships are devoid of the sacred, but the friendship we find in the human sense points to a transcendent, divine friendship with God that is foundational to inner stability and peace.

In this exploration, we do not find a dissimilarity between the human and divine that drives an irreconcilable wedge between the two. Rather, the more we come to know God in our lives, the more we come to know how to live our lives in this world and are able to see the "uncommon" love of God present in our "common" lives.

What are the connections you seek when studying the natural world? What are the connections you desire when seeking God in your life? What are the commonalities and differences we discover in each? And how do both explorations help us understand better the world we live in? Take this to prayer this week and, together, let us explore our world and explore God, seeking to understand how to embrace a life of grace, love, and peace.


Fr. James Kurzynski

About Fr. James Kurzynski

Fr. James Kurzynski is a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and a hobby astronomer. Originally from the small town of Amherst in rural central Wisconsin, Fr. James completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, majoring in Applied Music (Saxophone, Voice, and Composition). After graduating from UW-SP, Fr. James worked at the University of Nebraska at Kearney as a Hall Director and pursued a M.S.ed. in Group Counseling. After a year at UNK, Fr. James left his position to attend the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary to discern his priestly vocation.

Fr. James earned a Bachelor in Sacred Theology, a Master of Divinity, and a License in Sacred Theology. While pursuing these degrees, Fr. James also studied Spiritual Theology with the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Fr. James was ordained a priest June 28, 2003. Fr. James’ first assignment was as an Associate at the Tri-Parishes of St. Mary’s - Durand, Holy Rosary Parish - Lima, and Sacred Heart Parish - Mondovi. After two years, Fr. James was assigned as Chaplain and Instructor of Religion at Regis Middle and High School and was also assigned Associate Vocation Director. In his final year at Regis, Fr. James was also appointed Parochial Administrator of Saint Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church, serving south east Eau Claire County. From 2012-2015, Fr. James served as Pastor of Roncalli Newman Parish, serving the college students of Western Technical College and the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. In 2015, Fr. James was named Pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which also serves St. Joseph's Grade School (3K thru 6) and the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin - Stout. In 2017, in addition to his responsibilities to St. Joseph Parish and StoutCatholic, Fr. James was also named Pastor of St. Luke Parish in Boyceville, Wisconsin. Fr. James also teaches Introduction to Philosophy for the Diocese of La Crosse’s diaconal formation program.

In regard to his interest in astronomy, Fr. James is a member of both the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and the La Crosse Area Astronomical Society. He taught an Introduction to Astronomy course during his time at Regis High School in Eau Claire. Fr. James' first involvement with the Vatican Observatory came when an inquiry led to the development of the first "Faith and Astronomy Workshop" (FAW), designed for parish educators and clergy that are not professional scientists.

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