Here’s how NASA’s website reported a recent eruption: “The biggest explosion seen in the universe has been found.”
The site went on to say: “This record-breaking, gargantuan eruption came from a black hole in a distant galaxy cluster hundreds of millions of light years away.”
Fifteen Milky Way galaxies would fit into the crater, the scientists said.
I can’t begin to explain what a black hole is. I was the kid in science class who had my head in a poetry book. But when you think about it, maybe poetry might explain this mystery as well as science can. The biggest explosion seen in the universe? That’s God’s poetry written on an unimaginable scale.
In the news on the same day was a very small thing. A dog nicknamed “Trooper” for the state police who found him is recovering after being discovered in western Nebraska covered with stab wounds. The picture of Trooper shows the most heart-melting, beseeching eyes you can imagine. People are lined up to adopt him. The poetry of God is there, too.
Lent is just a few days old as I write this. The news, if we let it, has been all-consuming. A threatening pandemic. Turmoil in the financial world. Students on foreign exchange trips being called home early. The climate crisis worsening. The news that Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, engaged in highly inappropriate sexual behavior with vulnerable women reminds us that heroes continue to fall.
And then, Lent. In a world where I hear about the biggest explosion in the universe coupled with Trooper’s recovery all in one day says something profound to me about God. God is all-consuming. God is, as St. Ignatius insists, in all things. God loves on scales grand and small. God knows me and my simple soul intimately, yet God creates the biggest explosion seen in the universe.
It’s not that we ignore the news of this world. But I contemplate how much more immense and yet more intimate God is than all the stuff that causes me anxiety in the middle of the night.
I entered Lent ill with a cold that kept me in the house, and often in bed, for a few days. In the midst of my misery, I felt oddly comforted. Just be quiet, God seemed to suggest. Lent is about finding silence and stillness. What’s more important than accepting solitude, then giving in to doing nothing but making yourself available to grace?
Lent celebrates the immense poetry of Scripture. Isaiah never fails to confront us with what really matters for Lent. Forget the sackcloth and ashes, the fasting simply for the sake of self-righteousness, this prophet says.
“Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly … setting free the oppressed … sharing your bread with the hungry … bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your home.” If we spent each day of Lent reading Isaiah 58:6-7 and probing how we are living it out in our lives, it would be enough.
“Your light shall break forth like the dawn,” the prophet promises.
Lent is about seeking God in quiet, in Scripture, in the encounters with others each day. Lent asks us to be sacrificial, but our sacrifice should be used to help others. Our “giving up” should always lead us to “giving.”
And in the midst of trial and worry, we seek the intimacy of this powerful and mysterious force we call God. Let Lent open us to grace, to see the big picture, even if it’s impossible to imagine 15 Milky Ways.
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