Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Infinity & Beyond

Cosmology: starstuff, we are golden, gotta get back to the garden. You know the ditty. If the hippies of Laurel Canyon were right on, we're the material world. If we carry around our surroundings in our breath and touch and neurons, we live forever. But do we know this after our brief spurt between conception and flatline? Can we gain comfort from this brevity, or despair in its enigma? Is living forever, as Tiresias moaned, a curse? Better to merge into the beyond as a drop in the ocean? Not to know where we begin and the water ends? Oblivion as a blessing? Or rage against the dying of the night? Or fear the "undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns." King of infinite space? Except, "I have bad dreams." Shrink from "what dreams may come?" You see I'm teaching the Gloomy Dane himself this week, and Hamlet's got me thinking, wouldn't you know.

The other day I wrote about Merton and Eckhart and emptiness that the Zen master promised would comfort us. I recall a Tibetan lama's assurance that we need not fear the void, as before our existence we had no fear of it, so why should we have any in the time to come. The difference, alas to me, is awareness and recollection. While I cannot recall the womb, I can imagine the grave. What comfort may come then? I suppose Merton and many more monks have listened a lifetime for equanimity here.

Yesterday I read of our ever-expanding universe that in time will push out all other galaxies from our sight save six, so our descendents will have no idea of even the dark matter and the quasars and the red shifts we puzzle over. The Big Bang may have shoved any previous universe out of our sight in its first moment. Nothingness exists unless the charged particles feel like showing themselves, otherwise they do not, and stay non-existent. Zen masters and Rheinland meisters, what did you know of such a starlit realm? The very stars are leaving us, fading, and in an eyeblink of time we will look around into a near void above us. Incomprehending as it is now, in a few more billion years there will be less to comprehend still, into a slowing chill.

Can there be a loving God who made us and this hauntingly vast cosmos that spreads into infinity and emptiness? Dennis Overbye's "The Universe, Expanding Beyond All Understanding" NY Times article (June 5, 2007) quoted Einstein: "The Lord God is subtle but malicious he is not." Well, the ways of the Divine passeth all understanding.

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