The Universe in Lent by Jimmy Baigrie

The Universe in Lent by Jimmy Baigrie

So now we know. A mere 40 years ago, however, we didn’t. For a Cosmology I student in 1964 (and there weren’t many around!), the origins of the universe and of our solar system were surrounded by speculations which lacked demonstrable proofs.

Since then, powerful telescopes have enabled us to see our own skyscape in magnifications never dreamed of before. Add the advances in several other areas, but particularly in physics since Einstein first published 100 years ago, and the result is a layered platform of constant or repeatable observations which can be explained and harmonised only by the following conclusion. The universe has its origins in an infinitesimal explosion approximately 14 billion years ago, which then expanded at enormous speed and temperature for thousands of years, eventually slowing and cooling as time passes.

And we have to say ‘as time passes’ not ‘passed’, because the slowing down and the cooling continue today, and are measured with great accuracy. Believe it or not, the ‘snow’ or noise on our TV screens when there is no transmission was discovered in about the 1970s to be a picture of remnant radiation travelling around our atmosphere for the past 14 billion years.

Our universe, then, is on its own journey. So is the human race. So is Christianity. So is our church. So is each family. So are each of us. At present, we are on an additional journey called Lent, which we repeat each year within our life’s overall journey. Named from the old German word for ‘getting longer’, Lent occurs as the days lengthen during the northern hemisphere’s spring.

Ironically, the inner purpose of Lent is also a form of stretching, as we seek to expand, within ourselves and within our daily lives, the space available for God. We try to empty ourselves a little, and control our appetites so that we can energise ourselves in the year ahead with higher-grade, less-leaded, fuels.
The universe, as far as we can tell, shows no signs of understanding its own journey at all. The sun rises and sets, tides rise and fall, volcanoes erupt, continents drift – these things all happen repeatedly, but they are not done. The universe, we can see, obeys laws, but does not make them. It shows no signs of self-direction. So perhaps we should not say the universe is on a journey, for it may just be travelling?

And here we are, the tiniest of tiny specks journeying step by step on a daily basis, while yet travelling at high speed in a vast and very cold emptiness. An emptiness, though, that is star-filled with exploding light which captivates and stretches our minds and feelings whenever we stop and gaze upon it. Then, when we close our eyes, there it is again inside us – making us bigger than it in some way, as our imaginations stretch to enable us to carry this universe around within us as we try to comprehend it.

Being in space while also finding space inside ourselves is part of what it means to be human. Yet as Christians, we follow a man whose teachings and example require us to keep both feet firmly on the ground. Pray to your Father and Love your neighbour. Did he actually teach or do anything else? Prayer takes us beyond ourselves into infinite space – not a cold and empty one, but an infinitely warm and embracing Person. Infinity ‘out there’ for us, is all a dimension of inner space for God. And the Love we engage with in prayer is the one we try to bring back to earth inside ourselves, and to pass on to our neighbour.

Stretching up and out, stretching down and within, then stretching across to our neighbour – is this a picture of a human universe obeying a law of love, sustained by an ever-renewable energy, and worthy of the galaxies that spiral colour-struck around us? Whatever else these galaxies do, do they perhaps invite us to discover and follow the laws of our own nature as persons, so that we may be able to release our own potential as spectacularly as they do by following theirs?