Yesterday I saw it as I was garnering churchless inspiration from an astronomical picture book, "Universe: Journey from Earth to the Edge of the Cosmos."
Tears came to my eyes. Sitting on a cushion in my meditation area, I felt very, very small.
Also, very, very fortunate to be living in a time when science could show us so vividly what lies beyond the confines of everyday experience.
The caption in the book, where the image is rotated 90 degrees, says:
"Dark," because a black hole lies at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, having the mass of about four million stars the size of our sun.
But that's not what moved me the most about this image. It was the ten million stars that looked as closely packed together as salt grains spilled on a countertop.
Yet actually the average distance between stars in the Milky Way is about 5 light years, or 30 trillion miles.
Imagine (as if we can) traveling at 186,000 miles per second for five years just to get from one tiny speck in the image to another tiny speck. Equally astounding:
If the Sun were the size of a baseball, the density of the stars in our galaxy would be comparable to scattering fifty baseballs across the United States, so that there would be one star per state.
Ponder those words. Then look again at the full-size image of the galactic center.
I feel hugely more genuine awe and wonder from this reflection of really real reality, than from the Christmas sermon preaching of Rick Warren that I briefly listened to this morning as I channel-flipped through some cable news channels.
"Jesus died for our sins." Oh, yeah? What the hell does that mean? It's just words, dogma, blind belief.
The center of the galaxy ... now that's something you can actually point to, marvel at, have your mind boggled by.
And here's the most astounding thing of all: whatever the unimaginably vast cosmos is made of, so are we. Wherever it ultimately came from, so did we.
One of the most inspiring lines I've ever heard in a movie was spoken by Jodie Foster in "Contact" (which was based on a book by Carl Sagan).
She's a scientist strapped into a machine that's been built from plans apparently sent by an advanced alien civilization. It hasn't been tested yet. She's the ever-so-willing guinea pig.
Not knowing what will happen when the machine is turned on, Foster's character is willing to sacrifice her life in order to learn much more about the truth of the universe.
The countdown begins. A whole lot of shaking and rattling ensues. And we hear her say to mission control:
I’m ok to go..if you can hear me I’m ok to go!
Beautiful. That's the spirit of science. Daredevil truth-seeking.
Mysticism and spirituality, when shorn of fundamentalism, can have the same commitment to understanding naked reality.
Seek the center. Our galaxy has one. Each of us does. Is there anything more satisfying to do?