Thursday, February 14, 2013

Faith As Measured By Camels

One of these is furthest away.
by Amanda Taylor

Listen to this nonsense. The most distant galaxy currently known to man is called UDFj-39546284 and is approximately 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away from earth. Google informs me that that’s one hundred septillion. Apparently we know that it’s blue in color, signifying young, hot stars, and that it’s twenty times smaller than our own galaxy (which is the Milky Way folks… and with that single tidbit you’ve seen the ceiling on my scientific prowess).

If we took off in a jet plane at the average speed of about 500 miles per hour, it would take us 5 million years to reach the closest star outside of our galaxy, and if we traveled in the fastest rocket ship ever manufactured on earth, the trip would last 100,000 years or at least a thousand life spans.

Scientists today study galaxies so distant that their light has traveled through space for more than 13 billion years to reach our telescopes. This means when that light finally arrives here, we’re seeing it not as it exists now, but as it existed 13 billion years ago.

I can’t fathom such distance, such time. How could we possibly know this? More importantly, how sure are we that it’s “blue” and not, as I suspect, actually more of a gentle violet? How do we try to incorporate the unfathomable, the inexplicable, into our modern reality, knowing full well we can’t comprehend what it is we’re putting words to?

I often think of faith in this way. It’s not meant for scientific verbiage, for classification and numeration, or for oversimplification for our own digestive sake. It’s simply too big. It’s right here, it’s in the fibers that comprise your being, so it’s right there, but it’s too much. We must find a way to marry heaven and earth, but what can do it justice?

The lens through which we see.
You are both physical and spiritual, together temporary and eternal. You are entirely insignificant and the most important person in the world. Your story makes you lonely, but it’s the tie that binds you to our shared humanity. That great, vast sea of isolation is still the water from which we both drink. You will only ever comprehend the world through the lens of your own eye, but sometimes, when we’ve shared some version of truth, I’ll catch a glimpse of what it is you’re looking at, and perhaps taste the water for a moment as you taste it.

I want to understand enough about faith to feel comfortable talking about it, explaining it, and making it meaningful and digestible to others; digestible for my own intolerant palate. It seems as though if I can control its message, I’ll find ways to share it with someone else in a way that makes sense to both of us. There is this small voice in my head telling me that if I just have a bit more information, read just a few more books, I will know enough to speak of the gospel without the fear that grips me now. How is it that I have arrived in this place, where the thing I am most connected to is the thing I look upon with the most confusion and such frequent disdain?

What kind of crack was Paul smoking when he appealed to us, his brethren in Christ, to “all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought”? Surely this is an impossibility? But so too might be the existence of UDFj-39546284. It’s too far, too incomprehensible, yet it’s also sitting right here in this text, full of life and materializing before our very eyes. For one moment that understanding is real, that shared unity is clear, and then it passes. It’s so simple that it just is, but we can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. We are together temporary and eternal.

I view science as a medium to explore the incomprehensible, to create avenues for digestion of the unknowable. Perhaps too, we can think of the Bible as a scientific text, meant to baffle and befuddle, and then in an instant wipe clean any confusion or doubt only to replace it in the next breath. We are not God, nor should we ever think ourselves big enough to “control” the conversation. “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Yet I am not free to throw my hands in the air and plead ignorance, leaving the conversation because I don’t have control of it. It may sound truly ridiculous at any given moment and I must sit with that absurdity, cradling it in my arms. We did not always know the size of planet Earth, or that it rests as only one, in a vast abyss of unending planets. We came to this, our newest reality by way of studying, pushing our knowledge forward on the shoulders of those before us invested in the pursuit of ever more understanding.

Ancient rulers
In the third century the astronomer Eratosthenes, a geographer who ran the Library of Alexandria, was the first person to accurately measure the earth. He did so by estimating how far camels could walk in a day, and created figures using those measurements. He came within 15% of the modern measurement using camels as odometers. In his good sense to use what he knew to explain what he didn’t, he found the edge of something unknowable, something too big for anyone at the time. He arrived at something then that was both 13 billion years old and brand new.

Surely my small, insignificant piece of the conversation isn’t irrelevant, isn’t too small to transform history. I am, after all, the most important person in the world.

I am not on this earth by chance. I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy… I am a small and a lonely grape clutching the vine yet thou hast made me different from all others. Verily, there must be a special place for me. Help me. Show me the way.

-Og Mandino, 1968

Amanda isn't big on flowers for Valentine's Day. Flowers are great, and she sincerely regrets the effect this may have on future Bachelorette contestants, but Guinness and a collection of Presidential autobiographies would be better. You can follow her on Twitter @tayloram03.

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