The Most Astounding Fact

Every once in a while, especially at times like now when my life and the lives of my friends appear to be consumed by finals and papers and projects, I try to take moments at the end of the day for perspective.  Today, those moments of reflection (and the need for appropriate mood music) led me back to Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports.

I only listened to it for a few seconds, though, because the first few notes – a sole piano and a slow melody – reminded me of a different song: To Build a Home, by The Cinematic Orchestra.  

And, in turn, listening to this song reminded me of another video that uses To Build a Home as its background track.  This video is titled “The Most Astounding Fact – Neil DeGrasse Tyson.”

Talk about perspective!  Is there any concept in science more humbling and empowering than the idea, as Carl Sagan said, that “[w]e are made of star stuff … a way for the cosmos to know itself”?  What a terrifying privilege we have, to be (as far as we know), the sole mirror reflecting the face of the universe.  Despite all our progress, the remaining depth of our ignorance must create such an inadequate portrait – but the power of this idea compels us to continue to try.

It is Good Friday today, and as one might expect from any semi-diligent Christian, the crucifixion and death of Christ has been on my mind – and those of many of my friends.  Most of the posts I saw on social media today ran along a continuum of piety from rote exultations (“HE REIGNS”) to the mildly [and awesomely] sacreligious (“Our Lord is so awesome that not only did he die on the cross for our sins, he did it on a Friday so we could have a three day weekend”).  

My Good Friday experience today was different.  I found my thoughts returning again and again to Sagan and Tyson’s “Most Astounding Fact,”” the beautiful and profound reality that our atoms “are traceable to the crucibles” of the beginning of the universe.  The force of its concept ripped me out of law school thoughts and suspended me, gazing up in wonder, at something cosmic.

The idea reached out to me.  It clasped the shoulders of my faith.  And in that moment of connection between the spiritual and scientific, I realized what the most astounding thing about Good Friday is.  The idea that the great consciousness behind the turning of galaxies and the genesis of solar systems, a trillion trillion chemical steps and more removed from the crude bundle of elements that form my body, would allow itself to be so seemingly debased, to suffer human violence, torture, and death, seems unbelievable.  (For many, it is.)

But by doing so, by being one of us, and enduring the worst a person can endure at the hands of his fellow men, Jesus shows us that the beauty and sanctity and love-worthiness of a person is not bestowed by men but is essential to our constitution – it was given us the moment we were born, and it remains in us unto and beyond death.  No oppressive act of man can take it away – It is untouchable and irreducible, in the same way that the matter of our tiny bodies comprise the same particles which began the universe.  With limitless love, Jesus tells us that we are all star-stuff.  And the miracle of Good Friday is a most astounding fact: despite our apparent minisculity in a vast universe, and despite the hierarchies we build in worship of ourselves, we are each and every one of us as essential to the cosmos as the cosmos is to us.