The high pitched lashing of the frigid wind ebbed against my face as my coat flapped to the rhythm of the invisible currents. I remember thinking how the swirls of snow fragments flung about is like a small glimpse into"seeing" wind. My son Andrew and I were skiing that day, and the ridge on the mountain top was gusting so much that I had to steady myself while clipping in to my skis before heading down the slope.
I stopped to take a picture of the scene, which is the photo above. Witnessing the pageant of an azure sky against the pure white snow is more stunning than any artist could create. The icing on the cake is what looks like clouds are actually wisps of snow, drafted upwards and hurled around by the tenacious winds.
"Mystic Mountain" pillar of gas & dust in southern constellation Carina. Image credit NASA/ESA/STScI.
Now take a good look at the photograph above. It appears to be an image from a science fiction movie, but it's not. This is a photo taken by NASA from the Hubble Telescope. It is magnificent and otherworldly to say the least. The "Mystic Mountain,"as it is called, is 7,500 light years away, and 3 light years tall. Needing to brush up on my high school science , I looked up how far light actually travels in a year. 3 light years calculates to about 18 trillion miles.Try to imagine a mountain that tall. Seriously, it's mind boggling to fathom a distance that great.
This celestial pillar is a constantly changing formation of gasses and dust. Embedded inside are fledgling stars just coming into being. Violent streams of radiation, wind, dark matter, and intense heat are intertwined in a kind of enigmatic cosmic transformation. Incredible!
Check out the photo below. It is an active region on the sun releasing a solar flare, captured here by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
This is the same sun that we all know is "up in the sky", but don't normally to get to see from this vantage point.
Now compare the majestic blue sky and snow scene we saw earlier with these views into outer space. These breathtaking exhibitions are actually just a microscopic component of what persists beyond that azure sky. There aren't enough words to describe such a captivating spectacle. This and much, much more are going on in "the heavens" above us. Unless you study outer space as a hobby or occupation, most of us don't think too much about what is going on in the cosmos.
While we are on this subject, have you ever thought about where the "edges" of the universe are? They are actually unknowable.The universe is in a state of continuous, accelerating expansion. Scientists think the expansion is powered by something called "dark energy," of which very little is understood. The observable universe extends to about 46 billion light years away. Beyond that is uncharted.
There are also about 2 trillion known galaxies. It's hard to get your head around such numbers. And while fascinating new discoveries are continually being made, it's obvious to conclude that we will never really comprehend most phenomena. I think we are missing out on wonderment if we don't pause to ponder these things. John Muir so eloquently said:
When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.
What about below the surface of the earth? What's going on down there? I have spent most of my contemplation of nature on the surface and above the earth, but not below. This was before I found myself captivated with a section in the Bible where the prophet Isaiah shares the certainty of God watering the earth and causing things to grow, and transforming the lives of those who rest in Him:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; (Isaiah 55:10)
Just like pondering what's beyond the blue sky, these words triggered a curiosity in me beyond just an intrinsic impression. Deciding to embark on an exploration to find out what is going in our subterranean world, I discovered some fascinating things.
As we know, rain and melted snow seep below the earth’s surface. But there is actually another world beneath the canopy of trees, plants, and dirt. Scientists don’t understand fully what that goes on underground, but that is starting to change.
An intriguing scenario occurs with trees in their connected world below. A Canadian scientist named Suzanne Simard discovered that trees actually communicate with each other. In fact, they even broadcast their needs through a network of biological pathways made up of something called mycorrhiza soil fungi to help neighboring plants. They also send each other nutrients, carbon and water. Furthermore, trees send warning signals to each other, and even search for kin. It was also discovered that “mother” trees favor species of their own kind when it comes to sharing nutrients.
The underground network is so dense, that there can be literally hundreds of kilometers of fungal threads below just one footstep! In all, she describes it like a neural network that allows trees and plants to operate as unified organism. Check out Suzanne Simard's TED talk video titled: "How trees talk to each other."
So what else is going on down under? Other discoveries have unfolded from Deep Carbon Observatory scientists. In their underworld explorations they have found what is called the "Galapagos of the deep."
Over one thousand collaborating scientists discovered a vast inhabitation of living organisms (including zombies) that previously was not thought possible. This discovery is what scientists call an "intraterrestrial ecosystem of microbes" that live miles below the rocks, dirt, meadows, deserts, forests, and bodies of water. In fact about 70% of Earth's bacteria and archaea live underground. These organisms can live in temperatures far exceeding boiling points and over 400 times atmospheric pressures at sea level. What's more is the genetic diversity of life below the surface is comparable to, or exceeds that above the surface!
It is clear that seeping into the depths of the earth, rain and snow sustain life in unseen realms. In a cataclysmic chain of events, plants, trees, animals, insects, birds, fish, people, and other living creatures depend on the vital force of water.
It is worth replaying this circle of life vignette one more time that we often take for granted. Rain and snow come down from the sky, water the earth, and sustain life of all creatures below and above ground. The climax to this chain of events is that it "returns there." But where is there? It is of course back to the heavens. Returning there is critical. Without a homecoming of water vapors to the sky there would be no way to sustain life.
It's like the ongoing sequel that we see with bees and flowers. Bees return to flowers to gather nectar for food. Flowers need bees to move pollen to other flowers. Without this rhythm, many flowers would not be able to reproduce and bees would perish. With the liberal use of pesticides this is a real danger that has put some bee populations in jeopardy.
As much as some people would like to control the astounding designs in nature, it is far beyond the capabilities of the human mind. If we could control rain and snow above and below the earth, there would probably be global industries popping up with elaborate processes to engineer when and where to elicit precipitation along with the rest of the cycle. It would be like a giant automated garden sprinkler system connected to a timer.
We like systems where there is a predictive result. I find myself in the week trying to plan outcomes that I desire with great detail, only to observe that some unexpected event causes my agenda to go out the window.
We can learn about God's perspective on this if we return to discover more of what Isaiah was expounding upon from the passage we looked at earlier. Isaiah has been sharing the coming joy following the sacrifice of Jesus that he foretold "who bore the sin of many."
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
And what is the extent of this chasm of thoughts and ways?
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Then he illustrates the inevitable mission of rain and snow, initiated by God.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
Likewise, God's will is surely carried out.
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
One reality God is stating here is that man has massive limits on his capacity to understand and navigate life compared to Him. In fact the distance between man's understanding and God's are so great that they are unmeasurable. Remember that the edges of space are unknowable? If you find this hard to consider, the next time you see an animal or bird, ponder the chasm between your thought and reasoning capabilities with theirs.
Indeed it is God who created the fascinating dependencies and cycles that sustain life using rain, snow, the sky, and all of nature. And, just like the certainty that rain and snow watering the earth result in provisions that are from God, it is certain that God's word produces what He desires. He has a wide angle view of life that transcends all human understanding.
Cultural and even religious influences have molded quite opposite thinking in the world we live in today. Over the years, advice from well-meaning parents, relatives, and friends have instructed us to “Earn good grades and you will get into the school you want.” And, “Get into a good university and you will have a successful career.” Then, "Put in the effort and you will get a promotion.” Not to forget, “Keep your children under control and they will turn out to be great adults." Looking at the cycles of life through the lens of karma fall into this mindset.
But in fact, we are all recipients of our lives. We did not plan it. We have nothing to do with our very existence. Instead we inherited a life with God because he gifted it to us. Stop and think about that. Trying to chart our own course is not the answer to whatever we are looking for. We don't even have the map.
Perhaps we can learn to take a hold of God's hand and rely on His intentions to show us a way that we may not understand at first. Perhaps we will let God produce the fruit in our lives based on what He desires instead of running ahead and hoping He will follow. I think there is some truth in the lyrics from a song by former seventies rocker Peter Frampton where he says:
Who can I believe in? I'm kneeling on the floor There has to be a force Who do I phone? The stars are out and shining But all I really want to know
Oh won't you show me the way I want you show me the way
I actually do want God to show me the way. And as Isaiah stated, God's means are far beyond my comprehension and will lead to what God desires to accomplish in me with the certainty of rain and snow falling to the earth.
But in doing so, will we always be kept in the dark from God's thoughts that are far beyond ours? The answer can be seen when the apostle Paul shares that while on earth we are like children who only can only comprehend part of the story. But, when in Heaven, all will be revealed:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)
As each day comes to an end, I like to think that a sunset is more than what it appears. To me, the fiery setting sun returning to the horizon is a reminder of the marvels of outer space converging perfectly on a virtual surface of our terrestrial sphere, where nature swells with activity below the land and waters. A sunset fills me with awe. And, I think it is one of the greatest shows on earth.
Yes I can indeed count on the setting sun. It is certain. It returns there every day. It emphasizes my trustworthy Father in Heaven who fully knows me. His understanding of the universe and the flow of my life is without boundaries, and more than any human is able to comprehend. It is with this certainty that I return to sleep each night resting in the providence of God.