Deep field

By The Columbia Chronicle

by Abi Stokes

When I was younger,  my dad and I watched the Perseids meteor shower through the dark sky in our backyard. When I was too naïve to consider the improbability of it, I fantasized about one landing in the clover on our lawn. My own personal shooting star—a burnt-out stone as a metonym.

The stars in space always grip me; force me to keep my dry eyes open for them. All celestial bodies, and the space they reside in, are so striking that they have the effect of disarming me. In those years, I took them partly for their own beauty and partly as a symbol of God.  I saw them as a dear thing, made for myself and for everyone.  I took it upon myself to stay informed about astronomy.

My major study, however, was that of the Bible.  My parents gave me that value, and the scriptures defined my very way of thinking. One day when I was very young, I dug through my dad’s basket of pennies, and he told me to test everything anyone said by seeing if it was consistent to the scriptures. Every action I took was informed by this principle.  Every thought I had, I molded to fit with the scriptures.

So,  one might understand how I reduced the stars themselves to something so mediocre as a divine love letter. My inability to comprehend their scope enabled me to label them God-given. My non-answer, “God,” filled the empty space.

I was raised to believe the Earth was an infant 6,000 years old. The fact is that humanity itself is much older than that, but still a mere 200,000 years old. This, in the context of a universe that puts the term prehistoric to shame with its billions of measurable years, could not be reconciled with my beliefs.

It was only after nearly 20 years of faith that I truly considered a particular deep field photograph of a fraction of the universe, taken by the Hubble telescope in 10 days surrounding Christmas 1995. The light represented in the photograph is at least as old in years as it is light years away. This very idea that a picture could be a history of the universe that spans over billions of years startled me.

To me, it was as if some vessel had broken and left pieces to fall into a new shape. I had for my entire life struggled to hold this vessel together, to keep my beliefs consistent to themselves. I had polished it smooth with all manners of things, and in doing so felt guilty for noticing its flaws in the

first place.

Normally, I polished them away with something, and God made the light in transit. God made it all age very quickly; he can do that, he’s God. But the scope of this inconsistency was far too great for me to mend. After years of cracks and chips, the vessel was shattered too thoroughly—piecing it together would have left me with more adhesive than clay. Why would God trick me? Why would he pay such attention to making a universe that, in the magnitude of its very existence, belittles the span of a human life to something so tiny it is an imperceptible flicker within the context of reality? Even our sun is a miniature star in comparison.  It is a toy star.

This was not the only question of my faith, but it was, to me, an important one. I have never felt as much freedom as was granted me by the notion that the universe itself is indifferent to me.