Let There be Light: The Religious Significance of the Big Bang Echo

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My eleven-year-old son put it better than anyone I have ever heard.

Homeschoolers socialize with other homeschoolers. We took our kids to movies together, enrolled them in activities that ranged from classes at the local science museum to participation in swim teams, homeschool soccer leagues and even a homeschool chess club.

We also had picnics, went to movies and other recreational activities.

It was after a homeschool picnic that my son gave me the best description of God’s viewpoint of us that I’ve ever heard.

We were full of food and feeling mellow and we got into a discussion of the first chapter of Genesis. We were all, including the kids, just kicking it around, expressing our own views. One of the homeschooling mothers took an absolutely literal, and, to me at least, narrow and inaccurate, view of the first chapters of Genesis. She believed that God had created the earth (and presumably the whole universe) in six twenty-four hour solar days.

I kept raising the buts inherent in her argument … but 24 hour days are based on how long it takes the earth to turn on its axis, and there was no earth and no sun “in the beginning,”

… but God created time, so in the beginning there was no time …

… but …

She would have none of it. She couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea that there was once nothing, absolutely nothing, and God created all creation out of this nothingness.

To her, and a lot of other people on both sides of the existence-of-god arguments, the idea of a beginning in which light, time, atoms, the rules of physics — everything, everywhere — simply did not exist was too incomprehensible to bother considering.

My eleven-year-old piped up, “but God created time,” he said. “God is not part of time. When God looks at creation, He doesn’t see a line, going off into the future. He sees a dot.”

My son’s comment didn’t make a ding in our friend’s thinking. It floated past her without engaging one brain cell.

But I was stunned by the simple understanding of an eleven-year-old.

He had said it all.

When scientists taught that the universe always was, they were dodging the obvious. The metaphysical implications in an existence which began from nothing are enormous.

If everything — everything — had a beginning, and that beginning was a sudden something when nothing exploded into all that is, then the question of “What, or Who, did this?” comes shortly after.

I’ve read comments about the discovery of the Big Bang Echo to the effect that the Big Bang Echo debunks the Biblical story of creation once and for all. I assume that by the Biblical story of creation they were referring, not to the Scriptures themselves, but to interpretations of those Scriptures like that of my fellow homeschooler.

The idea that God created the universe in seven 24-hour solar days has so many holes in it, from simple logic, that it won’t stand. If you read the thing literally, really literally, you’ll see that it doesn’t say any such thing. It says “day” and day, used this way, is poetic. It can mean almost any space of time.

The first chapter of Genesis is a poem. Anyone can see that. It’s what it is.

But it also describes, in poetic rather than scientific terms, a reality. God did create the heavens and the earth. He “spoke” existence into existence.

The discovery of the Big Bang echo doesn’t prove that. It doesn’t even address it.

What it does do is let us see it.

As my eleven-year-old son once said, God created time. He is outside time the same way that Henry Ford was outside and not part of the Model T, that I am outside and not part of this blog post. Mr Ford and I both leave our signatures all over our creations. There is an image of us in what we do. But we are not governed by the realities of what we have created. It is governed by us.

God created time just as He created everything else. He is outside of it. I think that when God looks at creation, he sees all of it, all at once, all the time.

When it comes to time, we, who are in it and of it, are like a grasshopper, standing in the middle of an interstate highway. From our vantage point, the highway of time goes on in both directions forever. It has no beginning and no end. But to God, Who is outside of time, the beginning, and the end, are both constantly in view.

That is what it means to be transcendent.

We, who are made in the image and likeness of God, possess the capacity to slowly and painstakingly unravel this mystery of how God did it. From inside our temporal prison, we can, by use of all our wits and by building on one another’s thinking, figure it out.

I believe that’s because we are made for more than this life. Where else did this drive to touch the face of God with our minds come from? What practical purpose does it serve for us to seek and find the echo of the Big Bang from which we came? We are made for more than what we appear to be. Our craving for transcendence is a hunger that we feed but cannot satisfy with the devices of our minds.

What we are hungering for is not the what of existence, but the Who that is behind it.

This Being Who spoke existence into existence, this Word that was there from the beginning, loves us. He left us clues to how He did it scattered throughout creation like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs.

The Big Bang echo is one such crumb. It allows us, for the first time, to see creation as it was created. That is its significance. And its gift.

Science is not the enemy of faith. Ham-handed fools who try to use science to “prove” their personal prejudices can make it seem to be the enemy of faith. Occasional misapprehensions of the partial discoveries we make as we follow the bread crumbs can yield to this hubris and, again, make science seem like the enemy of faith.

But in truth, science is just us, figuring out the creation we’ve been handed.

Science misapplied can be our undoing, both spiritually, and, as we meddle deeper into the building blocks of our existence, physically. We can blow ourselves up or mutate our genes and end ourselves with science. The threat is right in front of us every day we live.

That’s because science is our creation, and as our creation, it is flawed in the ways that we are flawed. It a tool that our tool-making kind has devised to help us understand How He did it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

To Heaven and Back: Dr Mary Neal’s Near Death Experience

I reviewed the book Dr Mary Neal wrote about her near death experience a few months ago.

She describes her experience in this video.

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Book Review: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

To join the discussion about Free, or to order a copy, go here Free book cover

Free, by Mark and Lisa Scandrette, is a self-improvement book for Christians who’ve lost sight of the main thing in their lives.

Americans are distracted and over-stimulated. We’re all hoarders of one sort or another, whether it’s experiences or cash. It seems that whatever we do, we take it past our benefit to our harm.

Free is designed to lead its readers into a structured self-analysis which, hopefully, will show them ways to let go of the things that they are holding onto so tightly. It tries to encourage readers to back away from the greed for experience, money, stuff that is frazzling and entrapping them.

I suppose whether or not this works depends mostly on the person who is reading the book. If you’re the sort of person who takes tests in magazines and on internet web sites to determine what kind of lover you are or how long you may live, then Free is your kind of book.

The first chapter of Free asks you to stop for a moment and consider one thing: What matters most to you.

Of course, the long answer to that can and does change as people travel through life. Passing your driver’s license test may rank pretty high on your list when you’re 16, while having enough money to send your kids to college might be more important in your 40s or 50s. Keeping your health becomes a major goal as you age, and my 88 year old mother can tell you that just hanging on to your memory is a big goal later on.

These transitory goals and concerns are not unimportant because they are transitory. They matter. The reason they matter is that they are the stuff of life. We don’t live our lives in mountaintop experiences where the only reality is some transcendent notion of eternal good. We live our lives down here in the daily pits where getting a driver’s license or sending your kids to school make a difference in the quality and scope of the time we have.

The trick is how to separate the flotsam from the things that make a difference. Watching tv 24/7 is a waste of life. Oddly enough, so is spending you precious time as a career-obsessed money slave chasing after gold for its own sake. Everybody has to make a living, but making money is only useful to us when it supplies the goods that make life livable. When chasing after a buck becomes the purpose of life, then that endless chase after the carrot that’s always a bit too far ahead becomes just as much a waste of life as vegging on the sofa watching tv.

The truth is, life itself, by itself, never has meaning that can transcend the dailiness of what it is. Getting and spending are empty. Even living and loving has an emptiness at its core.

This is because we are hybrid creatures. We are bound by our physical selves to a physical existence ruled by the temporal realities of time and inevitable death. Seen this way, everything we do is, as Solomon put it, “vanity.”

Only God can give meaning to our lives because only God transcends our living,. As I said, we are hybrid creatures. While we live out our days in this life within the limitations of our physical existence, there is in each of us a longing for transcendence. We ache for the immortality we cannot see but know is there. Meaning in this life is found in the reality of the transcendence of God.

When we look at our span of years and the things we do with them in the light of that transcendence and our unrealized part in it, then even the most daily of endeavors takes on dimensions of meaning that give them deep dignity. There is satisfaction is living life within the scope of a transcendent God. What we do matters. Everything we do matters. And we matter, too.

The trick is keeping the main thing the main thing. Even while we are caught up in the dailiness of our lives, we can know and understand that we are also part of the great web of eternity, that our smallest actions are writ large in the overall scheme of things in ways that we cannot know now.

We are children of the living God.

And that is the main thing.

This is Your God

When was the last time the world promised satisfaction, and actually came through?

Great question.

I don’t agree with all of Jeff Bethke’s ideas. But this poem speaks truth to the contemporary world. Be warned: There are a few crude expressions and words.

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Lumen Fidei, Part 1: The Light of Faith and Conversion

Benedict francis

Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, is a wonderful piece of writing that I think is exactly right for us in this time.

It talks about the many ways that faith illumines our walk with Christ in this life, and how that faith leads us to the world beyond. It is about the transforming power of conversion. I was struck over and again while I was reading it by how completely its words seemed to speak directly to my own experience of conversion, from that first abrupt turn to Jesus and throughout the on-going conversion that has been my life since.

This experience of seeing my own walk of faith and my own needs — both intellectual and emotional needs — addressed in papal encyclicals is not new to me. I have been consistently amazed by the power the Holy Spirit infuses into the writings of the various popes to speak accurately of and directly to the broader human condition.

The fact that I saw my own experiences of conversion reflected in Luman Fidei leads me to believe that my conversion and my walk are far more universal than I had ever supposed. There is so much in Lumen Fidei that applies to us as individuals and as Christians in a newly post-Christian world that I am not going to attempt to summarize it in a single post. Instead, I’m going to unpack it a bit at a time and ponder what I learn from it.

Each of you would probably learn something different if you read it. Great spiritual writing is always like that. Ten people can read the Sermon on the Mount and experience 10 different insights. That is because the Sermon on the Mount has so many dimensions and also because the Holy Spirit guides us in our reflections to learn what we need at that time in our lives.

It is the same with this encyclical, or just about any of the encyclicals, for that matter. I encourage you to read it and reflect on it for yourself, then bring your thoughts here to try them out. Mind on mind generates better thinking that just going off alone. I think we can teach one another.

Conversion is not just a one-off, falling-off-a-cliff moment. It can be that, but, if it is real, it is always more than that. Conversion is a process of re-orientation.

The way I’ve always put it is that Jesus doesn’t change what we do. He changes what we want to do.

Lumen Fidei puts it like this:

Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time … faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond ourselves towards the breadth of communion.

In other words, God loved us before we were conceived, and has called us to Himself when we were apart from Him. That initial moment of conversion is built on the first spark of faith that allows us to say “yes” to this love. In my case, I said “Forgive me.”

My first conscious experience of God as Another was the instantaneous experience of love and joy pouring into me as soon as I said that. It was God’s answer to my “yes” to Him.

Just as the love of our parents when we are little gives us the security to explore the world and learn about it without fear, this powerful love of God that we can actually feel as a sensation transforms us from the inside.

The fact, the simple fact, that God Is, that He Is a reacting being whose first persona is ecstatic love and joy of a quality we have never known was possible, changes everything else. Faith, which was a spark of desperation when we said that first “yes,” becomes a certainty in the reality of this love.

Faith in Him, in His goodness and His love, teaches us a new kind and level of security. It is security built on a different reality at a different plane than the ones we ordinarily build our lives around.

The foundations and walls of security people try to erect for themselves are made of labor, blood and money. We amass wealth, commission armies, put up buildings and buy locks, all to give us security from the thief, the tyrant and the caprice of life. All these things are open mouths into which we feed our days erecting, maintaining and controlling them in the vain hope that they will keep us safe. Whatever safety they give is predicated on the fact that they themselves also devour our energies and strength. None of them can, in the end, save us from our own weaknesses and mortality.

The security of Christ is built outside of time and without our work. We do not supply it, and we do not maintain it. Time cannot erode it and death does not end it.

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Faith is the light, shining in the darkness of our narrow existences which illumines this security and lets us experience it. Faith does not create the security of living in Christ. Rather, it lets us experience it to its fullest.

Faith in Christ allows us to see the new path before us. It opens our hearts to the teaching and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which in turn, change us from the inside out. Over time, we are converted to a new way of looking at ourselves, other people and life. We are changed, re-oriented. The things that matter to us change, and the things we do change right along with them.

We become new creatures in Christ.

This is the full experience of conversion, which is on-going, life-long and radical. It is how Christ transforms the world; by transforming each one of us individually.

And it all depends on that first radical turn away from flat, one-dimensional life of no faith, no hope, and doing it all for ourselves. It depends on that initial “yes” of faith.

 

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

I Believe

Apostles creed

I taught my kids the Apostles Creed when they were little.

During the homeschooling years, we prayed the Apostles Creed after our daily Bible study every morning. We were Protestants at that time and I wanted to prepare them for the marketplace of ideas and ideologies that make up the wide world of many denominations. I told them that if a church did not believe what the Apostles Creed teaches, then it was not a true church and they should not join it.

If I was raising my kids today, I would have to take on a plethora of attacks on the Gospels, many of which are more subtle than simply denying the basic tenets of the faith that the Apostles Creed teaches. However, I think my original way of looking at the subject is still valid. A church — or a person, for that matter — who denies the basics contained in the creeds is missing the essentials of what constitutes Christian belief.

I view the Apostles Creed as the bedrock statement of the faith, the non-negotiable foundation on which everything else the Gospels teach is built.

What do you believe?

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God Sells Magazines. God and Obama Sell Lots of Magazines.

Big names sell magazines.

Eye-catching covers sell magazines.

Eye-catching covers with big names sell lots of magazines.

Who’s got the biggest name of all?

Let’s look

Double big names, with an Asian twist. How New Age.

The biggest name of all.

And of course, our ultimate destination.

Miracle Story: Baby Prayers are the Best

Bob Seidensticker, an occasional atheist commenter here at Public Catholic,  has called for miracle stories in a post on his blog, Cross Examined.

I’ll be posting a few miracle stories in the next week. All from real life as I know it. This one involves my youngest son.

My son went to mother’s day out at a Methodist church near our house when he was a toddler. It was just a few hours, a couple of days a week, but it gave me a breather, and he loved playing with the kids.

His best friend was a little boy named Shane. One morning I took John in, and Shane came running out of the playroom.

“John!” he said. “Do you know what’s happened? We’ve got to pray!” 

He put his arm around my son’s shoulder and they walked into the playroom, golden-haired baby heads close together as they talked.

I went on my way and didn’t think anything about it. When I picked John up that afternoon, Shane’s mother told me that her father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She said the docs had told her father that he only had a couple of months to live. I told her how sorry I was and she nodded, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

A couple of weeks went by and I happened to see her again as I was leaving John at mother’s day out for the day. I asked how her father was. She looked almost confused then told me that when they’d taken him in to begin radiation treatments, the doctors had taken new x-rays. Long story short: The cancer was gone. There wasn’t any sign it had ever been there. She and I didn’t say much at the time. There isn’t a lot to say about something like that. But later, I remembered Shane running out of the playroom and yelling “John! … We’ve got to pray!” 

I told Shane’s mom about it the next time I saw her. We both just sort of stared at one another. I think the magnitude of this made us feel shy about talking about it.

It might have been a coincidence of some sort. I have no problem with people who say they think that’s what it was. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m telling you this is what happened. I can also say that I never thought this was anything but a gift from God to two little children who prayed to Him. I will never forget those innocent little boys, walking off together, talking, and probably getting ready to pray.

The end of the story is that the cancer did come back in a few years. This time it was in Shane’s Grandpa’s brain. It took him fast, with little suffering. I always thought that this confirmed the original diagnosis. There had been cancer there. The x-rays had shown it; the biopsy had diagnosed it, and the recurrence seemed to confirm it again. The cancer, which was there, went away. Then, in a few years, came back to stay.

Those few years meant a lot of a little boy who loved his grandpa. Shane and his grandfather spent important time together during Shane’s most impressionable years. Who knows the impact the positive influence this loving, deeply Christian man had on that sweet little boy.

There are miracles. They aren’t even rare. But they don’t come with instructions on the lid. God doesn’t send a telegram saying, “Miracle coming now;” not unless it suits His purpose to do so. Most miracles are private gifts. Because He loves us.

I’ll post another miracle story tomorrow. I’ve got lots of them.

Honest Prayer and Saying Yes to God

Bob Seidensticker, one of our friendly atheists here at Patheos, writes at Cross Examined.

Bob has been posting about his participation in a 40 Day Prayer Experiment.

I often tell people who doubt God’s existence to do something very similar.

What I tell them is to pray honestly for five minutes each day for 30 days. I don’t think it will take 30 days. I choose that number because it sounds good — serious — to them.

The key is honesty. It’s fine, in fact it’s good, to pray “I’m doing this because Rebecca and I have a bet and I don’t believe in you at all.” If that’s the truth, pray it.

Then, at the end of the 30 days, you come back and tell me that God is not real.

The reason I do this is because I know from personal experience that if you open yourself up to God with honesty, He will reach out to you. If Bob Seidensticker prays honestly for 40 days, he’ll know.

The question for each of us is not whether or not God is there, or if He’ll answer an honest prayer. The question is, do we have the courage to admit it and to follow through with it when God answers us? When we meet God, it’s not just a cocktail party introduction that means nothing. An encounter with the living God means everything, and I mean everything. 

Once you know, not only that God is real, but that He loves you with an ecstatic and all encompassing love, nothing that you thought or believed or have done is off limits to the transforming power of His presence in your heart. That’s the scary part. It’s also where most Christians set limits on their faith, or even where they turn back altogether.

If you really reach out and let Jesus take hold of your hand, you have to let go of all the worldly ideas and relationships you were holding in that hand. You will be, in Jesus’ words, “born again” into a new and fuller self than you ever were before. But like all births, this one can be painful. The life you’ve lived will not longer fit you. The people you’ve known will often no longer like you. It’s a big step from what you’ve made of yourself to what God wants you to be. It would be impossible if you had to do it alone.

However, once you open your heart to the living God, you will never face any challenge alone and unaided again. As the old hymn says, “He will go with you until the end.”

Prayer, entered into honestly, is an open doorway into the divine. My advice to anyone taking up the 40 Day Prayer Experiment or something of its type is not to over-think it. Don’t sit there analyzing every twitch and itch. Don’t worry about how to pray or what to say. God knows everything about you already. Just be honest. Talk to God honestly. My prayer for you is that when He answers — and He will — that you will have the courage to answer Him with a life-changing, soul-saving yes.

Love Jesus and Hate Religion? Count Me Out.


I am not one of those people who “loves Jesus but hates religion.”

I am a pew-sitting, mass-going, catechism-following, Roman Catholic.

Based on my deeds, I’m not worthy to be called a Christian, much less a Catholic, and yet the Church took me in and accepted me as a completely new person in Christ. I’ve never encountered that kind of love and forgiveness anywhere else. Ever.

The Church, which is made up of fallen people living in a fallen world, is not perfect. But it is a direct conduit of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. Every mass takes you to the foot of the cross where you can lay down your worries, stresses and failures and be made new again in Christ.

If Jesus was going to be at the Cox Convention Center here in Oklahoma City, I imagine there would be lines of people, trying to get in. What we overlook is that Jesus is at our parish church at every mass, and that we can reach out and touch Him and be healed any day of the week.

Sixteen years of campaigning for office, filing bills, making speeches, battling over issues; of the chaos and ruthlessness that is politics, has taught me a few lessons. The most important is that, left to my own devices, I can and will do terrible things.

I learned that the hard way; by doing terrible things and then having to live with the remorse afterwards. When I follow my own “personal morality,” I can convince myself of most anything. When I follow my own lights and do what I think is right without any reference to the God who made me, I can be a monster.

It is a crushing thing to come face to face with your own sins, to see without the varnish of self-justification the harm that you have done. But it is also a gift, because from that knowledge of what you really are and how useless your “personal morality” really is, comes an understanding of who God is, what the Church does, and why you need them.

I work with people who campaigned for public office and were elected based on their Christian witness. They waved the Bible and held up their personal morality as the primary reason why people should vote for them. They attacked their opponents for not being as Christian as they were. And it worked. They were elected.

The problem with this is they were deformed by this process, deluded into believing that they really were holier than their opponents and most of the rest of the world. They came to believe that everything they did was of God just because they did it. In short,  they believed their own publicity and they became their own Gods.

They are sophisticated idolators whose God is their political party, their ambitions, and ultimately, themselves. They are the Pharisees of our times, and, believe me, they can cut your heart out without an anesthetic while quoting a Bible verse that they have taken out of context which they claim makes them righteous for doing it.

Before you condemn them, remember this: It can happen to anyone. In the same situation with the same pressures and temptations, it would almost certainly happen to you. Jesus said it best, “There is no one good but God.”

That’s why I would never be a person who “loves Jesus, but hates religion.” I find the greatest moral and spiritual freedom I’ve ever known in simply doing my best to follow the two-thousand-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church.

The Church is not perfect, but it is the repository of faith. For fifteen hundred years, the Eastern and Roman Catholic Church was the voice, the only voice, of Christianity in the world. Despite its human failings, the Holy Spirit has protected it so that it has handed down the full faith of Christ, the whole Gospels, intact and unblemished from one generation to the next for 2,000 years.

If you believe in the Trinity, you owe it to the Catholic Church. If you believe in the Bible, you owe those scriptures to the Catholic Church. If you believe in the virgin birth, the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, you inherited those beliefs from the Catholic Church.

I believe what the Church teaches. I believe in my own sinfulness. I know for a fact that I cannot be holy, Christian, or even a good person on my own.

Being Christian is not a matter of saying “Holy, Holy” and waving your Bible around. It is not wearing a t-shirt that says “My boss is a Jewish Carpenter.” It most certainly is not using “proof texts” taken from the Bible out of context to justify doing whatever you want.

Being Christian is first of all, going to the cross and knowing that you, like the good thief, are a sinner, not that you have sinned, but that you are, and always will be a hopeless, helpless sinner. It is knowing that you deserve to hang on that cross instead of Him.

Being Christian is, first and foremost, humility before God in the face of your own sins. Secondly, it is doing what Jesus told you to do. I don’t just mean doing the parts of what He commanded that fit in with the group of people you run around with, or that will get you a better job or make your life easier. I don’t mean picking out a few sins that don’t tempt you in the least and then condemning other people for doing those things.

You are not made holy by pointing out other people’s sins and condemning them. You are made holy by seeing your own sins and turning to God in humility to ask for forgiveness that, if you are honest, you know you do not deserve.

From my own life as a sinner, I will tell you that while you can come to Jesus anywhere you are, just exactly as you are, you cannot maintain a lifelong walk with Him alone. You need direction from centuries of Christian teaching, community and fellowship.

You can’t love Jesus and hate religion. If you try, you will inevitably end up loving a Jesus who is not Christ the Lord but a mirror image of you. Without the Church, and its stubborn insistence on following the whole Gospel of Christ, including the parts of it that various power brokers find inconvenient, you will revert to type and become your own God, following your own rules and justifying your sins, not with conversion of heart and trying to change, but with lies, obfuscations and the arrogance of self.

We can convince ourselves of anything. I know, because I’ve done it. Because I see other people do it every day of my working life.

We need to be with other sinners who, just like us, are trying and failing, then trying again, to follow Christ as they walk through their days in this life. We need the Church.


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