I lifted the latch and went out into the night to see what I could see and discover in the darkness what the darkness would disclose. And I went to the place where the air was heavy with moisture and dripped with the dewy sweetness of night-time flowers and there the waters ran silently, as dark as scriveners’ ink. Above me, Cassiopeia and Cepheus danced their slow dance in frozen silence and Banbury town stained the sky above Sunrising Hill with its amber glow. And as I stood, I listened for a voice, but none came and there was no song upon the breezes of the night.
sicut in caelo…
And so in the faint penumbra of my lantern I turned my eyes to another lonely circle of light glinting in the world of darkness; Andromeda, riding high on the wings of Pegasus. Its flaming glory traduced to a tiny blur diminished by unimaginable distance. Its light had taken 2.3 million light years, the entire evolutionary span of humankind, to reach me. Through what icy darkness had this speeding speck of light passed? This dim smudge that danced in the liminality of my vision contained the mass of one trillion stars in a whirling Catherine Wheel of ferocious light, each astral blazing furnace streaking outwards on its own path to the ever expanding tidal edges of the Universe, just as we on our spinning rock hurtling around our yellowing sun are also on a cosmic voyage into infinity.
The brief flash of our life-spans freezes this speeding moment into the illusion of timeless and motionless solidity, as if this is how things ever were and will ever be to come. The high speed shutter of our perception captures the drop of milk exploding into the cup of tea and, to us, that moment will last unchanging forever while our children and then their children’s children are born, live and die.
… et in terra
And so in that howling blackness of infinity, I lowered my lamp to the solid security of this world of grit and mud and stone. There, around my feet, glittered a spangle of starlight as dew globes glistened in my lantern’s light. A tiny watery orb balanced and quivered on the whirled ridges of my fingertip. As I looked closer, the world opened up. The world that makes up our world; where spinning electrons circle in wide sweeping orbits around their nucleus in their infinitesimal universes. Solid became no longer solid. It was as if my hand should pass through the brute mass of the tree trunk beside me as if it were a wisp of vapour. And I found myself teetering on the precipice of another infinity; another eternity of space. If I were to fall, I would fall, endlessly tumbling, through fractal chaos, a kaleidoscope of complexity. A world no longer trapped by the rules of physics… or even our minds.
Our world, the world of rock and ice and fire, solid and unyielding, is made from a chaos of freedom; a reeling, floating enigma dancing in infinite space. A world of ‘charm’ and ‘strange’; of coloured quarks, strange attractors and quantum entanglement. A space where the events upon which our world exists last for just a fraction of a chaotic second. But my perception is too slow to hold it; like an ancient oak that tries to glimpse a fork of lightning.
Here I am, standing on the frail skin of this spinning globe, caught between two infinities; one above, one below. I am a being who is bound by time in a universe of eternities. Is it therefore not surprising that, when I look up into the night’s sky, my heart hears the roar of eternity?
And in this dark breathing night, I feel lost, adrift, in this foaming vastness. Perhaps I am the one of whom Teilhard de Chardin wrote that “the world had disclosed itself as too vast”. In which case he was wrong, for I feel no desire to close my eyes and disappear, to crumble before the brute vastness of the Universe. Its vastness affirms in me a singing, dancing energy that I am more than me and folds into its velvet blackness my heart-song of ‘Why?’
It might be a bad reading, but perhaps the NIV translator of Ecclesiastes 3:11 was right after all, that the divine has indeed “set eternity in the hearts of men.” If so, he reveals so much more of himself than he does of Quoheleth’s god. A mistranslation? Perhaps, but it was the one phrase that kept my faith in the bible, when everything else blew away like threshed chaff and clung in my mouth with the taste of death. And now those words come back to me, resonating in my soul like a struck bell. I am a man locked into temporality and with eternity set – no, burning – in my heart.
Balanced on this thin line of time stretched between eternal infinities, is this why we look so longingly into the bowl of the night’s sky for that which we have yet to recognise? Is that why our hearts sometimes sing to us strange songs and we yearn for that for which we have no words?
Is this why, when I sit alone with the wind and the untamed things at an ancient place, that my eyes fill with water and it feels as if my heart is about to break?
Is this why the glow of amber fills me with hope? Or why the new buds of spring are so very potent? Is this why we repeatedly fail to come to terms with the concept of our death - because, at heart, we are the children of infinity?