I don’t necessarily believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that you can derive meaning from anything. Admittedly, this can be a fruitless endeavor, but we often miss opportunities to extract meaning from things that should provide, at the very least, some food for thought. One such opportunity is rapidly approaching.
As you may know, in the next few hours, the figurative will become literal. Planets will align. And because you are reading this, you will be dead the next time this event occurs. If that seems dramatic, it is still true, so maybe you should stop what you are doing.
To put this ethereal event in its proper perspective, perhaps it is best to go back to the beginning of the planets that are now our subject.
About four and a half billion years ago, our solar system did not yet exist, but in its place was a large cloud of gases and dust and space matter. Slowly, all the stuff in this massive nebula began to collapse into what became our Sun and the remaining matter began slamming into other matter and space rocks and dust until planets began to form. Over time, the temperature and pressure inside the Sun grew and solar winds blew away the dust and matter that had not formed into planets. This was the birth of our solar system.
In the eons since, the space rock we now call Earth slowly evolved into the only place in the universe that we know can support life.
Consider that remarkable fact for a moment.
Our universe, science tells us, is about 14 billion years old, and its expanse is beyond anything we can imagine. Yet out of all that stuff and over all that time, our planet remains unique.
When you look up into the night sky and see the Milky Way, keep in mind that our solar system is actually a part of that galaxy you’re seeing. NASA scientists estimate that there are somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. What’s more, the same scientists believe there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. Yet, as far as we know, we are alone.
These numbers are so big as to defy contemplation.
What should not defy contemplation, however, is the fact of now. In just a few hours, at precisely 3:04 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Venus will begin its “transit” across the face of the Sun. Depending on your location, the event will last between three and seven hours, although in America, Venus will not complete its trip across the Sun’s face until after it sets.
A Venusian transit will not happen again until 2117, so if you are in the habit of seeing once-in-a-lifetime sights (it actually happened in 2004, but the last transit before then was 1882), get yourself some protective eyewear and a good view. Please take your thinking cap as well.
If you’ve ever looked at the moon through a telescope or gazed into a clear night sky, you have probably spent at least some time considering the vastness of the cosmos and your place in it. This Venusian transit is another opportunity for such contemplation.
Since astronomers started peering into the sky, the realities of our world have compelled revolutionary thought, but they have also created rancor. In the days of Galileo, science was scrutinized and new theories about our solar system were labeled heresy. Over time, the criticism has quieted, but there are still some who are uncomfortable with a world—a universe actually—where science attempts to explain the unknown.
Of course, doesn’t faith also attempt to explain that which we cannot know?
It seems that some people fear science because it threatens ancient religious doctrine or suggests that what we once believed is no longer true. And if we are to follow that train of thought to its end, then science could crumble entire belief systems.
But I do not think that is true. Remember, science has demonstrated how vast our universe is, but with all our knowledge, we still cannot explain how we came to be. Science is not the death of faith. Perhaps, it emboldens it.
I believe that science and faith can coexist. When we peer into the sky, we may be able to predict the path of orbiting planets or measure the size of a distant star, but we still cannot answer how it all started, and it is likely that we will never know. So despite scientists continuing effort to seek out answers, there is still a great unknown.
And when we consider what faith truly is—a belief in that which cannot be known by empirical evidence—we can only marvel at the universe and recognize that something, call it God or the Force or a greater power or some unknown, has had a hand in it.
Many people find God in a book and derive their faith from holy verse, but there is another argument for God. It is one that science reveals in the beauty and wonder and complexity of our world and solar system and universe. These two ideas need not be mutually exclusive.
And to prove it, science tells us that in a few hours, planets will align. Yet we still do not know how everything that has brought us to this rarest of cosmological events came to be. So quick, find some protective eyewear or a pair of binoculars and go to a window or a hill or just follow along online and behold something that you will never see again.
As Venus crosses the Sun, consider the significance of the moment, and put some faith in the possibility that two things far greater than mere planets could be aligning as well.