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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.