A Grain of Sand Held at Arm’s Length
I suppose it’s why we are told to come to Jesus like little children. Jesus tells us to love God with all our might and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The older I get, the more I think about it, the harder it becomes.
God, we are taught, created the Heavens and the Earth. The Earth we’ve had a lot of direct experience with, but for so long, the heavens were just up there. Some say that the heavens are symbolic. They represent something completely out of our reach, something completely beyond our understanding.
I will grant that. Let me make that symbolic value a bit more powerful by — ironically — making it more concrete.
Looking at the Deep Field
In contemplating the heavens, we’ve created instruments to help us. First simple telescopes, then more sophisticated ones, then radio telescopes, then telescopes in space. Right now the James Webb space telescope is positioned in space at a place called the L2 point, which is out beyond the orbit of the earth, out beyond the moon.
One of the first things the James Webb space telescope did was to take a “Deep Field” picture. This was inspired by the Hubble Deep Field picture, which had gotten a lot of attention. In each case, a picture was taken of what to the naked eye was just a tiny piece of empty sky. The James Webb space telescope looked at a piece of sky the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.
A grain of sand … at arm’s length. Do this yourself to see what it’s like. It won’t matter if you drop the grain of sand, because you won’t be able to tell.
And in that tiny grain of sand held at arms length, we see galaxies. Thousands of them. In what looked to us like an empty spot. Behind a grain of sand. At arm’s length. Each of those thousands of galaxies contains something like a hundred billion stars. Many of those stars have planets around them just as big as Earth.
And that is just the stuff we see.
The Big Question
The religious person will roll that into wherever he keeps his idea of the Majesty of God. Even if you are an atheist, you should experience something like awe. I know of a few who do.
For the Christian, though, it presents a question. We are to love God. How can we express that love to the creator of something so enormous, so complex, so beyond our imagining?
I will be turning 60 next month. Last April I was asked three times in a 24-hour period by three people independently of each other whether I had retired yet. Not if I was thinking of retiring, but whether I’d done it yet.
I am getting old.
Experience is one of the few fruits of old age. Indeed, it might be an only child. You get older and you get more stuff. Probably not stuff you need and almost certainly stuff you don’t want. Anything you want, you’ve already bought it yourself. What can anyone get you to show you that they love you?
They can give their love to your children or grandchildren.
Seeing that is a gift. We can see something of God in ourselves even if it is the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.
Loving your neighbor is loving God. Loving God’s other children is loving Him. What can we give God to show we love Him? Love His children. Love your neighbor as yourself.
This brings us to a harder question. How do you love your neighbor? Have you seen some of them?
Well, you work on that. They are not hidden behind a grain of sand held at arm’s length. They are right there. You see them more clearly than you may want to. They’re not a galaxy far, far away. They’re people very, very close.
You’ve got your homework now. Work on it.