A Message from Our Pastor

At the center of our galaxy is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. It’s located near the Butterfly Cluster, an open cluster of stars. Of course, it only looks like a butterfly from our perspective here on earth, since all those stars are nowhere near one another in reality.

Most of you know that a black hole is an astronomical object which has collapsed. The result is a “black hole” in space whose gravitational pull is so powerful even light can’t escape it.

Galaxy (photo)Sagittarius A* was imaged using the Event Horizon Telescope, which is actually an international collaborative network of radio telescopes.

Here are a few random thoughts from this fascinating and furthest-thing-from-earth-shattering event.

First, as you know, I sometimes talk about God as the nothingness at the center from which everything emerges. Black holes aren’t quite that, obviously, since they seem to only take and never give anything in return. They’re all-consuming.

And they’re far from empty. Black holes, in their consumption, are so massive that their gravity pulls apart every atom that enters them.

I’m thinking less about astronomy and more about philosophy, more about existential experience. I hope to move my mind more along the lines of Jean-Paul Sartre’s claim, “Nothingness carries being in its heart.”

Black holes make me think about the question people sometimes think will force others to accept the existence of God: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Why does the universe exist? Has it always existed? Did it arise from nothing?

That line of inquiry too often demands a precise and factual answer. It seems better, though, to allow those kinds of musings to confuse and unsettle you, to open your thinking toward new possibilities. “Why is there something rather than nothing” doesn’t have a simple, pat answer. There are many answers to that kind of question, some scientific, some theological, and some rooted in philosophy. But the answers are less important than the line of inquiry and the wonder it invokes and provokes.

I want to use those words— provoke and invoke— carefully. One means to draw from and the other means to draw toward. Both are important when we contemplate unanswerables.

Why not take some time and think about why there is something rather than nothing? Allow all the consequent thoughts to be present, especially the ones that contradict one another.

The simplicity of language that we fall back on in describing odd phenomena is refreshing. We say, “black hole”, “supermassive”, and “event horizon” to communicate profound things. If you fell into a black hole, you’d undergo spaghettification, a child-like term that means something far less pleasant than it sounds.

Naturally, there are a lot of technical terms and concepts people like me have no business commenting on. I’m more interested in how all language is metaphor, an attempt to use one thing — a hole — to describe another thing — an astrological phenomenon that is very much unlike a hole.

But blunt tools like language are all we’ve got.

We (humanity) couldn’t have imaged this supermassive black hole without a lot of cooperation. It takes radio telescopes from around the planet working in concert to produce the picture we have. I wonder what might happen if we could move that cooperative energy toward averting climate disaster, feeding everyone, or education.

Finally, this discovery or, rather, documentation, reminded me of “Black Hole Sun.” Chris Cornell, the writer said it was just stream of consciousness, which makes it all the more interesting and productive to this little essay. In stream of consciousness words don’t necessarily have an intended result, but nonetheless become something full of implications and possibilities after they’re released into the world. Kind of like the universe itself.

In my eyes
In disguises no one knows
Hides the face
Lies the snake
And the sun in my disgrace
Boiling heat
Summer stench
Neath the black, the sky looks dead
Call my name
Through the cream
And I’ll hear you scream again
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain?
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
Won’t you come
Cold and damp
Steal the warm wind, tired friend
Times are gone
For honest men
Sometimes, far too long for snakes
In my shoes
Walking sleep
In my youth, I pray to keep
Heaven send
Hell away
No one sings like you anymore
Black hole sun
Won’t you come

Even though he was hesitant to comment on the exact meaning of the song as a whole, Cornell had this to say about the line, “Times are gone for honest men,”

“It’s really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It’s going to become more and more difficult, and it’s going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to (ruin) the next guy to get what they want.”

That’s an interesting observation. Humanity has always had its liars and disillusioned, we’ve dealt with anger and a willingness to (ruin) others. And it’s always bothered us when we see it in others and in ourselves.

I’ve never liked hearing people pretend things used to be better back in the day. At the same time, we’re seeing in real-time a growing acceptance of violence and dishonesty. We’re witnessing a harnessing of disillusionment toward a consolidation of power. “Times are gone for honest men.”

And I don’t think meditating on the vastness of black holes will help.

Unless it does. While I might say things like “God is the nothingness from which everything emerges,” Christian tradition is more concerned with the lived experience, with existential meaning in the meaninglessness of black holes and disillusioned people:

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and their love is perfected in us… Those who say, “I love God,” and hate a brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.First John 4:12, 20

As you contemplate time and distance so vast your finite mind cannot contain it, even in mathematic formulae, as you try to grapple with “God,” remember the complexity and simplicity of loving the ones around you, in your home, in your neighborhood, on the flying rock you share with them. remember that they, too, are phenomena of wonder and amazement.

And while perhaps times are gone for honest people, we can still live toward honest encounters with the divine, who carries our being in their heart, and shows up in the face of every human person.