"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Expansive Universe

Rabindranath Tagore

In desperate hope I go and search for her
in all the corners of my room;
I find her not.

My house is small
and what once has gone from it can never be regained.

But infinite is thy mansion, my lord,
and seeking her I have to come to thy door.

I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky
and I lift my eager eyes to thy face.

I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish
---no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tears.

Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean,
plunge it into the deepest fullness.
Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch
in the allness of the universe.

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

Who has not gazed in rapt attention at the night sky and not had a sense of his or her own smallness against the background of the stars? Throughout history sages and poets, alike, have wondered at the depths of the heavens, but only now do we know how deep and expansive the depths of the heavens truly are.

For the pantheist, the spiritual but not religious, the agnostic and the non-dualist, alike, the depths of the cosmos may testify to the breadth of the manifest and non-manifest aspects of Unity and Wholeness, or what might be a single, unitary G_d.

Light, one of the few constants in the universe, travels at a mind boggling 186,000 miles per second (or 300,000 kilometres per second). At that speed, it still takes three-quarters of a second for sunlight reflected off the moon to reach our eyes, and a full eight minutes for sunlight to travel the approximately 93,000,000 miles (149,000,000 km) from the Sun itself.

Every star we see when we look up into the sky lies within our galaxy, the Milky Way. And, yet, the closest star system to us, Alpha Centauri, is 4.35 light years away - that's  25 trillion miles, or 40 trillion kilometers away. The Milky Way, itself is a more-or-less average sized galaxy containing approximately 200 billion stars, and stretching across 100,000 light years of space.

There are approximately 80 billion other such galaxies in "the observable universe" - some larger, some smaller than the Milky Way - in which there are anywhere from 30 sextillion to a septillion different star systems (i.e., 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,0000 to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 separate stars), and who knows how many countless worlds.

At the largest scale, as the video clips below illustrate, superclusters of galaxies (each stretching across hundreds of millions of light years) weave themselves into a fabric of knots and threads that can be billions of light years long, with the density of this fabric stretching matter uniformly out throughout the heavens.

And, yet, as incomprehensible as such distances and numbers are to us, it is indisputable that amidst all this "we live and move, and have our being," (Acts 17:28).


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