The Worlds Beyond Ours

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It is estimated that there are 100 billion, possibly 200 billion galaxies in our universe.1

Let that literal astronomical number sink in for a moment. I could not imagine have 100 billion dollars, let alone 200 billion. After taking care of my family and friends, giving towards numerous charitable causes, buying everything I could want and paying taxes, I would still have more than enough money to spare. Yet, beyond our world, our galaxy, are boundless worlds that we cannot begin to imagine.

In this 14.5 billion year-old, ever expanding universe, how can we rule out the possibility of other life out there? I’m not speculating about galactic empires, Klingons, little green or gray beings, or any of the standard science fiction tropes, but just think about it for a moment. I am inclined to think that there is life beyond what we know, even beyond where our current science takes us. What effect would such thinking have on our theology?

Up until the pioneering work of Copernicus, later confirmed by Galileo, Church doctrine taught what is known as the geocentric theory of the universe, which states that the universe revolves around the earth. Copernicus’ heliocentric theory- which states the earth and galaxy revolve around the sun, which modern science has confirmed. We know with certainty that the literal universe does not revolve around us, but what if we are not even the apex of God’s creation? What if it is the epitome of humanity’s arrogance to assume our place while the vastness of this infinite universe?

What if beyond us is a world where its inhabitants have not spilled innocent blood in the names of war, religion, or greed? What if these beings did not destroy their environment through pollution, harming the air, water, and food supply? What if these beings listened to the voices of the philosophers and poet? What if they put into action the words of their own Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and aspired to live out those ideals without feelings of superiority or hypocrisy?

I find the universe to be a humbling place. If we were to consider our place in the grand scheme of things, could we once and for all put aside our tribalism and live in peace? Can we recognize for a moment that according to the Big Bang, our planet was created by giant collisions with other celestial bodies and we are still susceptible to threats from asteroids and meteors that could end life as we know it?

I would encourage to take a trip to a planetarium or an observatory and view a show. I would also encourage you to listen to Carl Sagan’s poem, “The Pale Blue Dot,” which puts a beautiful perspective on our place in the universe. Stop waiting for the apocalypse or heaven to come to earth, this is all we have and all we know for sure. Look up at night and view the stars, the constellations, admire the beauty and majesty of our universe and dream of the possibilities.

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The Stream of Tranquility

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By Michael W. Raley

There is a stream of tranquility

Trickling down from the jagged stones of remembrance,

In the space once occupied by the raging rapids.

My senses are sharpened,

The colors are more vivid

And the sounds more boisterous

Than I can ever recall.

I realize that this moment is all I have.

So, better take it all in,

Because it won’t come back around.

I am coming to terms with who I am,

Which brings a slight grin to my face.

I’ve fought my way over, through, and back

More than I care to remember,

But I’m still here.

As the warm spring breeze blows across my face,

I savor this euphoric feeling of freedom.

Upon Further Review…

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

In recent years, I have done a lot of what I would call “mid-life reflection,” where I have pondered the direction of my life. I have also taken a hard look at what I believe and why I believe it. Does what I believe stand up to critical examination, logic, reason, and common sense? Am I willing to let go of certain beliefs if they no longer stand up to scrutiny? Can I be intellectually honest enough with myself to admit to such a finding?

To paraphrase the great Jedi masters, I have not fallen to “the dark side,” but I do allow myself to play “devil’s advocate.” Let’s take my Christian faith for example. I was born in the United States, more specifically Indiana, where Christianity is the dominant religion. Indiana coincidentally, tends to more fundamental in its faith, which by default leads people to being more politically and socially conservative. However, what if I was born in Thailand? More than likely I would have become a Buddhist, because Buddhism is the dominant religion and culture in Thailand. Same goes for India, where people practice Hinduism, or what if I was born in Saudi Arabia, where people follow the teachings of Islam?

The question becomes is our faith simply a by-product of what we are born into and therefore accept without question because it’s the norm? Also, if we believe to hold onto the one true faith, why do we react so harshly to criticism? Why has religion been the source of so much bloodshed throughout the history of the planet? Much worse than an unexamined life are the consequences of unexamined ideas and the people who follow along. We must temper what we believe with reason and not give blind allegiance to people of any religious, social, or political group, because we can find ourselves disillusioned when we place faith in man.

Examining your values and beliefs doesn’t have to wait until all hell breaks loose, but it can be a daily exercise to cleanse our minds and spirits. I intend this year to go deeper into my reflection without fear of asking the hard questions. I also intend to examine the common responses, or in most cases, cliches that all of us say because we feel compelled to say something. I want to explore deeper subjects and go beyond the surface. If faith is an ocean, I intend to explore the Mariana Trench. I am going to take a reasoned, philosophical, and verifiable approach to faith. I hope you come along for the journey. God bless.

The Deeper Wisdom

By Michael W. Raley

We live our lives amiss

When we believe that ignorance is bliss.

It is when we purposely shut out the possibilities of  our minds

That we live life stuck in an endless loop of time.

It’s safe and we loved being back there,

Thus anything new we don’t want to know nor do we care.

It is through life, experience, and learning that knowledge can be revealed,

But to the deeper wisdom, we must yield,

For truth is wisdom applied.

Thus, we must shine our light and not hide.

Since we are on such limited time,

Let us seek out this wisdom, both human and divine.

 

Close Your Eyes and Breathe

By Michael W. Raley

Before the coffee begins to brew,

The thoughts come rushing in:

“You need to do this today.”

“You have to do this too.”

“Don’t forget about this.”

“You have to do this on Friday.”

“You’ve been putting this off.”

“You’re out of this, you need to get it today.”

“You should have started the day earlier.”

The list grows well beyond what I planned.

Stop!

Close your eyes and breathe.

Come back to this moment.

Close the mental browsers that don’t need to be open.

Step back and reason through this.

Focus on one and only one task,

Then move on to the next task.

Gradual momentum and gradual goals,

Just as you would read a book:

Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then pages, then chapters,

Then the book will be finished and will be on the shelf with the other finished books.

 

 

 

 

The Mountains

By Michael W. Raley

I close my eyes and retreat into my mind.

I can see the mountains as if I am there.

The majesty, the beauty, the only place

Where my spirit, mind, and body are at peace.

The winding roads,

The gorgeous blue skies

Seemingly untouched by industry.

The snow-capped peaks at the height of summer.

Nature’s grandeur of wildlife-

Elk, big-horned sheep, and marmots

Living out their existence.

How my soul longs for the mountains!

The mountains are not obstacles,

But a point of perspective.

For when viewed from the mountain top,

Our problems become small and insignificant.

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

If you desire to be a better athlete, musician, public speaker, writer, artist, chef, or anything else in life, you need continuous practice. Natural ability and talent can go so far, but to further hone one’s skills, one must take the time to practice. Brother Lawrence in his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, humbly and brilliantly shows us how to increase God’s presence in our lives through our daily practice of living.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691) was born Nicholas Herman and served God as a lay-brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. The Practice of the Presence of God is a combination of conversations, letters, and spiritual maxims Brother Lawrence had with various people and was compiled and published after his death by his friend, Joseph de Beaufort.

Brother Lawrence states, “The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present.”[1]

The principles put forth are so simple and profound, we can easily overlook them in the overly busy, overly frustrating, and overstimulating days that make up our Twenty-First Century lives. You do not need advanced theology to understand that God is omnipresent, always with us, but do we take the time to acknowledge Him during our day?

“Brother Lawrence insisted that, to be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking with Him throughout each day. To think that we must abandon conversation with Him in order to deal with the world is erroneous. Instead, as we nourish our souls by seeing God in His exaltation, we will derive a great joy at being His.”[2]

No matter if he worked in the monastery kitchen, the monastery shoe repair shop, or just going into town to get supplies, Brother Lawrence dedicated everything He did to God. It was out of his love for God that Brother Lawrence sought to please God, not to be rewarded, but to show adoration for God’s grace in his life.

“He [Brother Lawrence] was content doing the smallest chore if he could do it purely for the love of God.”[3]

We often think that we need to do great things for God in order for Him to love us. However, Brother Lawrence insisted that we can bring God and ourselves joy in the simplest of chores. Imaging cooking for your family and how often that is a thankless chore we can come to dread. But, what if we were to view cooking for our family as a way to show God thankfulness for the family that we have? What if we were to take a lesson from Brother Lawrence and thank God before we began a chore and thank Him afterwards for the opportunity?

“Brother Lawrence declared that he felt much closer to God in his day-to-day activites than most people ever believed to be possible.”[4]

Another way Brother Lawrence practiced God’s presence was to speak to Him openly and frankly, as if he was talking to his best friend. It was said that Brother Lawrence went to God in all matters great and small and discussed them with Him.

Of course we know our modern world is full of distractions- smart phones, the Internet, television, movies, video games, and other sources of entertainment. These distractions, if we allow them to, will take our energy and focus away from enjoying God’s presence. According to Brother Lawrence, we must direct our thoughts toward God and God’s presence. If we do get distracted, we can simply repent and begin again. Overall, The Practice of the Presence of God shows a tremendous spiritual depth at the relationship between the Lord and Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence describes how God had blessed him so much when he made the habit of seeking God’s presence out of love and devotion. What if we were to praise God just because He is God and has saved us? Are we capable of seeking God without the hope of a material reward? If we practice God’s presence, God will give us the grace and strength we need to overcome life’s difficulties.

Brother Lawrence’s book concludes with the three blessings we receive from God’s presence:

“The first blessing that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active in our lives. This is particularly true in difficult times, since it obtains the grace we need to deal with temptation and to conduct ourselves in the world…Second, the practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases as our faith penetrates God’s secrets through practice of our holy exercise…The third blessing is that this practice causes the will to rejoice at being set apart from the world, setting it aglow with the fire of holy love. This is because the soul is always with God, who is a consuming fire, who reduces into powder whatever is opposed to Him.”[5]

For anyone who is seeking a deeper relationship with God or is starting out in a relationship with God, I would encourage you to read Brother Lawrence’s words because they, like Scripture, have much to say regarding a more spiritual life. God bless you all.

 

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington PA: Whitaker House (1982): 67.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Ibid, 21.

[5] Ibid, 71-72.