Sometimes I am reminded of the smallness of humanity compared to the vastness of the universe and, in particular, the immensity of our solar system. I always catch my breath and pause in wonder when I remember that all of us humans exist on this tiny blue ball, tilted at around 23 degrees, orbiting around a relatively average star some 93 million miles away from us – a distance which in galactic terms is not very big, but is way bigger than any of us will ever travel in our lifetimes.
I saw two signs of this physical reality today.
First, on my morning run, I was running due west on Dopp Road, a two-lane road with white lines painted on either side. When there’s no traffic around, I will run pretty much on top of the white line on the left side of the road. On Monday morning, when I last ran, the sun was rising directly behind me. I noticed that my shadow fell exactly along the white line. This was unusual because all summer long, the sun has been further north in the sky, meaning my shadow has fallen off the road to the left.
But today, for the first time this season, I saw that my shadow just barely fell inside the white line, on the road itself. The season is changing, and the sun is on its southward quest for the next four months until it turns back north at the winter solstice.
Second, this afternoon, the sunlight came in my office window and shined directly on a little solar-powered mechanism that sits on my desk.
The solar panel converts the sunlight into electric energy, which makes the motor turn the small gear, which turns the large gear, which slowly brings marbles up to the top, where they drop into the spiral slide which brings them back to the bottom once again.
This toy was a birthday gift and has been sitting on my desk for about a decade, I think. And in this time of year (also the late springtime), when the afternoon sun shines directly onto this corner of my desk, this little mechanism goes crazy. It gets so much direct sunlight for a few minutes that a marble drops about every thirty seconds. Normally, with ambient sunlight, one marble might drop every five minutes or so.
We live on a tiny blue ball orbiting a larger yellow ball, and we can only sit back and enjoy the cosmic show as little reminders of our physical universe make their way into our awareness.
The sunlight is moving. The seasons are changing. Of course, the sunlight is always moving at the same speed in all directions, outward from our sun. It’s just that our perception, our reception, of that sunlight is changing because our orientation toward the sun is changing. The sunlight isn’t really moving; we are.
Our scriptures contain lots of celebrations of the created order and the God who created it. Take, for instance, Psalm 104. It includes such lines as “[God] made the moon the mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. … The sun rises, and [the lions] steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then people go out to their work, to their labor until evening.”
I encourage you to read the whole psalm today, maybe while the sun is setting. Or tomorrow morning as the sun rises. God has created this universe with rhythms and patterns and routines, and we can rejoice in the beauty of this world in which we play an extremely tiny but extremely important role as its caretakers.