One of my spiritual practices is to look at NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day each morning. I am humbled by the greatness and beauty of the universe. There is a certain holy fear that staring up at the stars inspires in me. The universe is filled with amazing, beautiful things that have been present for as long as humans have walked this world, but we are only now able to see many of them. Take for example how we have been able to slow down the noise of crickets and reveal how amazingly beautiful their chirping is–or how microscopes have helped us to see the magic of butterfly scales and unveiled incredible creatures we never knew existed
The universe is amazing! And it’s far beyond anything we can even imagine.
Scientists estimate that in the observable universe alone there are 170 billion galaxies. That means that if each person in all of human existence (about 100 billion) was given a galaxy, that would still leave about half of the galaxies we can observe unclaimed. Each of these galaxies contains an estimated 400 billion stars, and the closest of these stars (other than our sun) would take 19,361 years to reach using the fastest vessels we have today (which go 150,000 miles per hour).
What’s more amazing to me is that the One who upholds and sustains this extraordinarily vast and complex universe would reveal himself through the humble frame of a man, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God comes to us as a child at his mother’s breast, as a day laborer in a backwater district of an occupied nation, as a man stripped, beaten and killed, as one like us.
The glass contains the ocean. A breath contains the sky. The womb contains majesty without end. The unmoved mover was moved to meet us where we move.
In Jesus, God reveals himself in the universal human language of humanity itself. God adopted human flesh, and so human flesh has become the greatest icon (image) we have of God.
How are we to venerate this great image? Jesus tells us we do it when we love, when we feed the hungry, give water to those who thirst, and take our coat and give it to the one who is cold and naked (Matthew 25:31-46). Yes, one of my spiritual practices is to admire God’s handiwork in pictures of the universe, but perhaps I would be better served in seeing God by making an extra lunch in the morning and keeping my eyes open for icons of God in need of a sandwich.
Perhaps this is what Dorothy Day realized when she stated, “Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”
Billy Kangas is the Catholic Relations fellow at Bread for the World, a PhD student in theology at Catholic University, and the editor of The Orant.