Humbled by Beauty in the Universe and in Nature

Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 8:14am
Humbled by Beauty in the Universe and in Nature

With the recent news about the universe's origins, why are we struck dumb with awe and the nature of magnificence? A guest commentary on our deepest impulses.

Commentary by:
Susan Cooke Kittredge,  guest contributor
Shortened URL
2 ReflectionsRead/Add Yours

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background.

Credit: Steffen Richter License: Harvard University.

In 1969, my brother-in-law who is an astrophysicist generously and patiently spent a long afternoon trying to explain black holes to me. After four hours I had a headache, but also a faint understanding of what these huge gravitational sinkholes might be.

The amazing recent discovery of evidence of gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time that have echoes of the big bang nearly 14 billion years ago — promises many of us a headache. Just as light is bent by gravity, trying to understand this new discovery can be mind bending. I mean, we’re trying to conceive of a billionth of a billionth of a millionth of a second 13.8 billion years ago. Really?

Before news of the discovery was made public, Chao-Lin Kuo, an assistant professor at Stanford, surprised his colleague Andrei Linde, the founding father of the theory of inflation, of BICEP2’s findings. Professor Linde and his wife, Renate Kallosh, who is also a physicist, were enjoying a routine morning when the knock came on their door. To say that Professor Linde was elated at the news would be putting it mildly. But what intrigued me was his scientifically-ingrained reservation and humility, even then. Smiling broadly with somewhat glistening eyes he said in his marked Russian accent, “Let us just hope this is not a trick. I always leave with this feeling, ‘What if I believe unto this just because it’s beautiful?’”

Many adjectives have been used to describe the importance of this newly revealed evidence: monumental, groundbreaking, extraordinary; they are somewhat dry if certainly declarative. Professor Linde’s clear appreciation of the beauty of these generated waves speaks to me of something deeper, not in space-time but in, what one might call, soul-time.

We’re all drawn to beauty, though our views of beauty may differ widely. Beauty speaks to our hearts, to our souls. We’re attracted to it as moths are to flame. Whether we find beauty in music or a painting, in a poem or a person, a mountain top vista, a windswept lake, or the smile of our dog, we know it when we see it. But what exactly are we seeing? My sense is that when we recognize something as beautiful, we feel ourselves connected to it and somehow to its origin. The ripples of appreciation that beauty generates pay tribute to the source from which it stems.

Last week I found beneath some cedar trees a beautiful but dead barred owl. Seemingly unharmed, it was mature and in full, magnificent plumage. Most likely it had starved and frozen. Though it was almost two feet in length, it weighed next to nothing; it was just feathers and bones. It was extraordinarily beautiful and also very sad. And all to whom I showed it gasped at its magnificence and felt, I think like Professor Linde, humbled by the existence of such beauty and the glimmering revelation of its source.

A version of this commentary was originally published on Vermont Public Radio.

Shortened URL

Susan Cooke Kittredge is associate pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church in Vermont.

Add Your Reflection

Filtered HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><span><div><img><!-->
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Embed content by wrapping a supported URL in [embed] … [/embed].

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
2Reflections

The World is awakening to us, and I feel a part of it!
You all have contributed so much to my growth in Spirit!!! Thank you for your sharing your beautiful talents with us!!!

From the beginning of my memory I remember hearing, "God said, 'Let there be light!' And sure enough there was light..." Over a life time I have come upon the knowledge of scientific discovery and have rejoiced in the new knowledge and now I rejoice in Professor Linde's discovery. Behind every piece of new information I seem to hear those powerful words over and over, "Let there be light."

Top Blog Posts

With the dulcet tones of the Copenhagen Phil, commuters find a moment of unexpected musical joy in this flash mob scene. You will too.
Parker Palmer reflects on "sharing our loves and doubts" as way into more generous conversations — all through the lens of a poem by Yehuda Amichai.
A worthy week filled with viral videos that will make you rethink your use of language and make you smile, and posts about a writer's prayer journal and a poem from Rumi that will inspire you.
When a millennial woman hears about Buddhist teachings on overcoming anger through love, she decides to try out a meditation practice experiment on her own social media feeds.
Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal offers a rare glimpse into the life of a brilliant writer, colored by doubt and uncertainty, preoccupied with both magnificent grace and the mundane absurdity of everyday life.
apples