The Vast Expanse of Space Can Unhook the Ego and Open Us Up to Gratitude

In Space there is a lot of space.  Much more than the naked eye can see.  The recently deployed James Webb telescope (in 2021), now a million miles away from earth, has shown us how vast and spectacular space is.  Not to mention how old.  We are now receiving – for the first time, pictures of other galaxies  that took forty million light years to arrive on the Webb’s mirror.

I can’t fathom that; fathom being a common measure of ocean depth; one fathom is about nine feet.  The deepest part of the ocean is about 6,000 fathoms, or nearly seven miles; I can’t fathom that either.  I remember a summer night, shortly after I graduated from high school, looking up at the stars – and feeling overwhelmed by how many, how far and how big they were.  I felt small, insignificant – and scared.  At the time I was wrestling with how, where and if God fit in my life – and my looking up into the heavens just made that spiritual quest more complicated and confusing; and ratcheted up my anxiety.

I tried to scale back.  I found a lot of support.  Instead of trying to take in the entirety of the universe, I took comfort in theologies and cosmologies that were pre-Galileo – that made the earth the center of everything.  Instead of wrestling with unfathomable theories of evolution which posited that humans emerged 8 million years ago, it was much easier to subscribe to some biblical interpretations that we are no more than 12,000 years old, which some have insisted is the dawn of Creation (as opposed to the accepted scientific big bang date of 13.7 billion years ago.)

In the fifty-four years since my nocturnal encounter with the insignificance of my existence, due to a prolonged gaze into a starlit sky, I have learned more of the demands and the desires of my ego. Which is to break down the enormity of reality and the universe into smaller pieces.  I can do this by denial, distortion – or the need to manage or manipulate.  And I – and we, see this happening every day.  The ego – especially when it is hyper-engaged or overly inflated, can reduce things to binary choices – this or that; right or wrong.   Would-be political and economic dictators do this on a daily basis.   Inconvenient data is refuted or ignored.  People holding oppositional views become enemies.  The vastness of space becomes a playground for fantasy; it is not real.  Nothing should be unfathomable.  The exercise of power becomes paramount.

Embracing the unfathomable – by absorbing the images from the Webb telescope, by honoring the vastness of space and the depth of the ocean, can serve to unhook us from the desires and demands of the ego. We are not masters of the universe;  we are important and valuable constituent parts of it.   By disengaging from the push and pull of the ego, we can more effectively engage with the important work  of calling for restoration, reconciliation, peace – and healing the world.  As we honor the expansiveness of space, we are better able to fathom the pain that people inflict on one another, as those with more power often try to violently eliminate others, thus shrinking the world to fit their agenda.

Nearly a thousand years ago St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) wrote “What are you, Lord God, than that which nothing greater can be thought”?   The vastness and beauty of what the Webb images show points me to that which nothing greater can be thought.  It expands my mind. It opens up my heart. My ego may feel insignificant, but my soul is expanded.  If the Webb telescope’s images or Anselm’s wisdom doesn’t point you to God (as it does me), it can perhaps guide us to a realization that it is all much bigger than we thought. And from that vantage point, with greater openness and compassion, we can better address the violence, fear and hate that engulfs our world.

And for that I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving.





The Dread of the Assassination Attempt

Like many of us, the attempted assassination of Donald Trump sent my mind racing.  Who was the shooter?  Why did he do it?  Was security inadequate?  Would former President Trump be OK?  What does this mean for the election?  For Republicans?  For Democrats?  For the...

Praying for Biden and Trump

For a good stretch of my early years, prayer was a confounding exercise.  My family regularly went to church – where the congregation prayed while I dealt with itching legs from my flannel pants.  We said grace before dinner, which invariably became a contest over...

A Debate of Egos; the Need for the Soul

Last week I attended a debate watch party.  It was held in the Carthage College chapel in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the first night of the Braver Angels Convention, an annual event that brings equal numbers of red (conservative) and blue (progressive) and yellow...

The Ten Commandments: Laws or Guidelines

Last week the governor of Louisiana signed a law mandating that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public school classrooms.  In some ways I get it, in spite of the fact that like so many it challenges the constitutional separation of church and state.  The Ten...

Mistrust and Trust

It was the spring of 1970.  The United States had just announced that it was expanding the war in Vietnam by authorizing bombing campaigns in Cambodia.  Campuses across the country erupted in protest.  On May 4, four protesting students at Kent State were shot and...

Challenges to Trusting the Process

Trust the process. This was a phrase I often heard when a strategy session or a problem-solving meeting bogged down.   The group would get stuck, and in frustration someone would either suggest we scrap the whole enterprise, or would start accusing a participant of...

Ep 13 – “A Common Humanity” with Wilk Wilkinson

Wilk Wilkinson joins me to discuss his journey from political apathy to toxic political engagement, followed by the epiphany that since led him on a mission of bettering the world, one attitude at a time, by charting a course toward understanding, bridging divides, and fostering a community where wisdom prevails over discord.

Time and Space Needed for Grief and Mourning

“In war, death interrupts nothing.  Time doesn’t stop; it seems to accelerate.”  So wrote David French, in a New York Times column on May 25, 2024.  A veteran of the Iraq War, French goes on to say that in battle there is no time or space for mourning the loss of a...

Whose Land is It?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this passage from my daily reading:     “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.   No one will be able...

Ep 12 – “The Church Cracked Open” with The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers

Canon Spellers shares her journey from being a skeptic and critic of the Church to becoming a senior leader with a deep faith and a commitment to social justice. We explore the themes of mission, evangelism, the power of genuine curiosity in bridging divides, and ongoing efforts to address systemic issues like white supremacy within the church.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!