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On PSALM 8: 3-4

Early humans must have been fascinated by the night sky, the sweep of the Milky Way, the occasional shower of meteorites, the rhythms which they discerned in the movement of the stars. The city dwellers among modern humans have no ordinary nightly access to the sense of wonder which the beautiful night sky evokes; light pollution has obscured the stars. But the observatories on mountain tops world wide, such as in the Atacama in Chile, give astronomers fascinating views of the stars. These encounters can raise questions about the meaning of what it is to be human among this vastness. Prof. Brian Cox, in his wonderful series on the universe [ BBC series 2011], presents the lay viewer with an opportunity to ponder on the profound nature of our existence. The fascinating pictures from the Hubble telescope are like icons (as in the Greek Orthodox tradition ) whereby the viewer is invited to enter meditatively into that which is before his eyes.

Astronomers speak of the billions and billions of stars, the innumerable galaxies. It is truly mind-shaking. Take a jam-jar of sand from any beach, pour it on the table and begin to count the grains. Then consider that there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on every shore on the planet earth, and then some more.

The idea and the feeling of being insignificant in the enormous cosmos is not a new experience. About 2800 years ago, a holy man of Israel gazed at the night sky and was overwhelmed with his own sense of smallness: ‘When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, what are we humans that you should keep us in mind?’ [Ps.8:3-4]. His question is also an address to Yahweh. In his era, the presence of the Divine, even if this presence was ‘hidden’, was a given. Having an atheistic world view was out of his ken. The pre-moderns, such as the psalmist, was awestruck, but he was not speechless before God. It was as if he intuitively knew that the great evolutionary unfolding has built into it - through the voice of the human - the capacity to say: ‘How great is your name O Lord our God through all the earth!’ [Ps.8:1]

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