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Looking for Life That Matters

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 51:1-6) transports me to the opening scene of the Jodie Foster movie Contact, which has the camera zooming out slowly at first from the earth’s atmosphere, revealing the sun coming up over the blue horizon. The camera continues to zoom out with increasing speed as it goes farther back, first passing planets and then solar system and then Milky Way and then clusters of galaxies until it finally gets to one shining point of light. Then the camera shifts perspective as it reveals that this light is actually the center point of a little girl’s eye, as she sits there with her ham radio, wondering if there is life on other planets. I thought of Contact yesterday when I heard the news that NASA scientists using the Keplar telescope are finding many more planets than they once thought that could have the capacity to sustain life. And then, zooming in from the cosmic to the microscopic, I read an article sent to me by my niece Jessica, about a group of physicists studying the behavior of electrons that spin around the nucleus of atoms. These scientists are close to unraveling the mystery as to why matter won the battle over anti-matter at the beginning of our universe. I don’t claim to have a clue what this all means or what anti-matter is, but what little I do know about the fundamental building blocks of our universe continues to blow my mind with the elegance and beauty and precision of their layout and the realization that even the most inanimate objects are in fact animated at the most elemental level by these same spinning electrons.

The prophet Isaiah was no particle physicist, but I think he was interested in the building blocks of life and had a deep appreciation for how the universe was laid out. In our passage today, he was writing to a group of downcast exiles who were struggling to maintain hope as their faith withered away in a Babylonian prison camp. I can imagine they were tempted to succumb to the “what does it matter” voices in their head, and give up hope altogether. The prophet was attempting to put them in “contact” with the creator of the universe and give them a cosmic perspective that would increase their capacity to sustain the life of faith. The camera zoomed back until they could see that proverbial third stone from the sun, and he told them, Look to the rock from which you were cut, and to the quarry from which you were hewn. That rock, which provided the dust from which humanity was formed,  didn’t have to be there. Anti-matter, that void spoken of in Genesis, could have won the day and none of us would be here to even know the battle existed. But instead, life happened. And look at what came out of the dust of that rock – people like Abraham and Sarah – two wandering old fools who beat all odds to become father and mother to a nation that matters deeply to God. This is where you came from, Isaiah says. This is who you are. These are the building blocks of your life. Salvation is in your very structure, and nothing will ever change that. Zoom out to the heavens, and zoom back in to the earth, and what you will see if you look carefully is salvation at work, spinning around every nucleus of every atom. Even if this third rock wears out like an old garment and every sentient being dies, this salvation – which is part of you – will last.

The prophetic perspective of hewn quarry and cut rock can radically change the experience of exiles who are in the metaphorical battle between matter and anti-matter. Whether you’re in Babylon enduring captivity or in Cairo fighting for freedom or in Washington arguing that folks with pre-existing conditions have a right to health care, look through both telescope and microscope at the rock from which you are hewn. It helps to know that your work, your struggle, your very bloodstream, is flowing with the life force of a salvation that will survive every defeat, every failure; it will work its way through wandering fools and weave its way into the fabric of every history. It is what “matters.” It is what lasts. And while all these battles are being waged, what about life on other planets? The more I learn from these scientists, the more it seems to me like that’s all there is – life – the stuff of matter –  spinning electrons doing victory laps around the void that was vanquished at the very beginning. It’s the promise of Christ, the solid rock, vanquishing death. That’s what I want to be in contact with. And I suspect that, like the little girl in the movie, if I want to reach the full mystery of eternal life emanating from the Christ quarry, I’m gonna need a bigger antenna.


*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.

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Comments

  • February 4, 2011 at 8:35 am

    awesome!

    Comment by Kelly Dotson

  • February 4, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Reminds me of a lyric

    We are stardust. We are Golden…

    Comment by Ron Shehee

  • February 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Great song and connection, Ron. Would have made a better title to the post!

    Comment by Stan

  • September 26, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I love this, Stan! I’m not sure how I initially missed your fb message, alerting me to its presence. Since I value your opinion so much, I’d like to ask you a question: If scientists were to find intelligent life on another planet (or if it found us), how do you think that the religion of Christianity would jive with such a discovery? Do you think these extraterrestrial life forms would fit into the salvation plan presented by the Bible? Do you think these lifeforms would be made in the image of God? I imagine they’d be quite different than humans, in both thought and form. How would these creatures fit into homegrown theology? Might such a discovery challenge us to rethink our narratives? I’ve often wondered about this.

    Comment by Jessica Hoefer

  • September 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Jessica, glad you found the post! You raise good questions. I imagine that the faith community would have as varied a response as they have had for all other discoveries of major scope, like the earth revolving around the sun. While E.T. life might threaten some of the assumptions of some within the faith traditions, I suspect that it would not be that difficult to embrace and find ways that such life would enhance and enrich the narratives. The narratives, as I read them, are not bound to particular understandings of science, but are open to the changing ways we understand our universe. The foundational beliefs in the grace and love of God would not be undermined by any such discovery.

    Comment by Stan

  • September 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Absolutely. God is certainly a universal God, and salvation (the eternity of the soul) is certainly universally applicable. These realities cannot be contained within boxes. They are much greater than our narratives, but our narratives can evolve to fit our ever-evolving conceptions.

    “They do not yet perceive, that light, unsystematic, indomitable, will break into any cabin, even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe as on the first morning.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Comment by Jessica Hoefer


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