Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cosmology Questions on a Plane above the Continent

On our recent trip to California, we shared a row with an 8 year old girl.  Her family boarded late, and she sat beside us, with family members all around.  I was in the middle seat.  If it had been a shorter flight, I might have offered my seat to one of the family members.  But since it was such a long flight, from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas, I really wanted to be able to sit by my spouse, to lift up the armrest, to share our backpack.

We were flying Southwest, which doesn't have assigned seats, and every seat was taken.  But the 8 year old proved to be an easy person to sit beside.

She slept for the first part of the flight, as the landscape below us was green.  When she woke up, the shift had begun, from green to brown.  Much of our trip was over Texas, which was fairly dull.  We talked about the roads we saw or didn't see.  We wondered who lived down there.

As the landscape changed to a more rugged desert with canyons, with mountains in the distance, she turned to me at one point and said, "How did all of this get here?"

Oh, so many ways to answer that question.  I didn't leap immediately to God.  I talked about continental plates and the shifting which heaved up mountains and the seas which once covered the landscape and before that, the glaciers which carved so much of the continent, although not the part we flew over.

She said, "Yeah, but how did that get here?"

I said, "You mean, how were the planets formed?"

She nodded, and we talked about the big bang.  I said, "But the question that you still have is how that matter that exploded came into being."  She nodded again.  I said, "Nobody knows for sure.  Maybe it was always there.  Maybe God put it there."  She nodded again and changed the subject.

I thought about what a delicate balancing act it can be, to answer these questions in simple enough terms for an 8 year old, to talk about the beginnings of creation without denying the possibility of God, but also without denying the science of it all.

Of course, of all of us, 8 year olds are probably most capable of dealing with the paradoxical nature of these questions of cosmology.

My larger question:  how can we deny the beauty of this creation as we see it from afar?  And how can we not want to save it?

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