I was moved by an article about how the Hubble telescope is showing us the immensity of the universe. With our sun one among 50 billion stars in our galaxy, among more than 50 billion galaxies, it is easy to think of ourselves as lost on a speck in space.
Indeed, one common outcome of modern education is the widespread feeling that we humans are forever separated from the rest of the universe by unimaginable distances, and that the forces operating in the universe are utterly alien to us.
Spiritual traditions give us ways of feeling connected with the universe. I want to remind you of another, scientific, way of feeling connected to the stars.
The same science that reveals to us the vastness of the universe also tells us another story: Astronomers explain that all the elements heavier than hydrogen originated inside stars. The carbon in the ink on a page, and the silicon in glass and microchips, were created in the heart of a star, long ago, as that star shined by fusing hydrogen. The iron that carries the oxygen in your blood as you read this, was created when a star, in its dying phase, exploded.
You and I are not merely separated from the galaxies by unimaginable immensities of space; we are also connected to them by unimaginable immensities of time. We are literally made from stars. We are their descendants. The only difference between us and stars is time.
I don’t know how this way of looking at things strikes you, but it raises in me an absurdly wonderful sense of celebration, and I look at the night sky not with a sense of hopeless separateness, but with a feeling of kinship: There shine the origins of every element in our bodies. Because stars exist, I exist. The processes that created those billions of unimaginably distant galaxies also created us.
We human beings are not separate from the universe. Those galaxies are not merely distant–they are distant cousins.
With this in mind, I urge you not to miss the nightly wintertime rising of Orion in the Southeastern sky, followed by the star, Sirius, flashing red, blue, and golden light. Or the summer rising of Scorpio across the Southern sky, with red Antares burning at its heart.
That is a kinship worth celebrating.