Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Monday, February 22nd: Psalm 77; Job 4:1-21; and Ephesians 2:1-10. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I love inter-library loan. I recently picked up Black Hole Survival Guide by Janna Levin from the library. It’s a light, poetic, imaginary excursion to and into a black hole, a region of space-time so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational pull. Even though it is impossible to retrieve any information from inside the black hole, some extremely intelligent people, like Janna Levin, can figuratively peer inside through their mind’s eye guided by the laws of physics and mathematics.
Black holes are a logical – and real – consequence of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Einstein experienced an “aha moment” when he realized that there is no way to tell if you are in a windowless elevator freefalling to your death because a cable broke or if you are floating carefree in an elevator in space experiencing zero gravity. This eventually led to the idea of gravity warping spacetime. You may have seen images like the one below. The satellite orbiting the earth is actually in a freefall toward the earth because the space around the earth has been warped by the earth’s gravity. Space’s vacuum will allow the satellite to remain in this freefall of an orbit. This is how gravity acts on another object without actually making contact with it.
When there is enough mass to create a black hole, however, spacetime is warped so catastrophically upon itself that it shuts itself off from the outside world. Nothing can escape. Last week we put a vehicle, and a helicopter, on Mars. That journey began when a rocket reached a high enough velocity to escape earth’s gravity, to fight its way out of the warped space around the earth. The gravity of a Black Hole is so immense that anything inside would have to reach an escape velocity greater than the speed of light, and that is impossible because the speed of light is Relativity’s single constant.
Another astounding reality that Relativity reveals is that space and time are interconnected. The more mass the slower time moves; the less mass the faster time moves. If you lived in the Swiss Alps you age more quickly than if you lived at their base because you would be farther away from the earth’s center of mass. Speeding through space also plays such weird games. The faster your velocity the slower your clock. And both of these come into play with Black Holes.
When it comes to Black Holes, the mass is so extreme that not only space, but time collapses upon itself. Time would seem normal to you as you approached the Black Hole, but to others at a distance your clock would appear to be moving glacially slow, and you would, because of Relativity, see their clocks moving at a comedic pace of fast-forward.
As you passed the edge of the Black Hole, the event horizon, it would appear that your clock has frozen “as though your crossing of the event horizon takes an infinite time.” (p. 61) This is because space and time are united and everything in the Black Hole is moving at the speed of light, and at this speed time stops. Correspondingly, as you look out past the event horizon you could see eons of time pass by as if they were but moments of seconds. Levin writes that we cannot see into a Black Hole, but from the inside you could look out.
Black Holes are extraordinary but not few in number. Say there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe or even a couple of trillion. Black Holes may lurk at the center of most all of them, as one does at the center of our galaxy. We think of time as ordinary and consistent, but it isn’t. And this is a physical, testable reality. For me at least, this makes God’s eternity not seem so outlandish.
The Psalmist today touches upon the forever of God: “‘Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’”
This may have been written during a particular time of nation upheaval. Israel may have imagined that God had changed forever, but God has not forgotten His promises. They were not “at an end for all time.”
One of Lent’s lessons may be to try and see our lives and our world, at least occasionally, through God’s perspective. Maybe we could then trust God more firmly so that even when we ask, “Why, God?” we could still give God the benefit of the doubt. To have faith is not to be free from the Psalmist’s angst. It is to rise above it. Faith lets us join with the author of Ephesians and believe:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.macucc.org/lectionary.
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