I heard someone reference this figure this week. Imagine the possibilities within the bounds of such a number. It is huge. Bigger than any measure we can fathom. Allowing that number to inspire our thinking, let us use this sum as our starting point.
If life is a journey, and every mile offers choices, then a number this size represents limitless choices. Life and the choices within are made in the midst of places and people. Imagine the people and places we do see in a lifetime. Chance meetings, brief encounters, lessons learned, each of them addingup, tell the story of our journeys.
If life is about value, what if this number were some sort of measure of good we hoped to accomplish? We would soon admit that it is not an amount we can reach on our own. It is too large. But, what if our good deeds inspired others to do the same? The idea of paying it forward could become something of a cascading equation that allows our good to be combined with the good we helped to initiate. Much like the story of the church, started by a few, it's scope has reached around the world.
All of this imaging comes at the start of a new year. Month, weeks and days lay out before us empty, waiting our choices that will fill them up.
Now imagine what it would be like to start a new year as Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus. Can you imagine the possibilities and thoughts running though their minds? With a newborn and a new marriage, they are turning the calendar over on a new life, as well as a year. The scriptures tell us Mary would spend some time considering what the events of the previous year could mean. Luke 2:19 says, "But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." It is a helpful exercise to ponder what the past year means as a new one lays out before us. Often, we treat the choices, or even people, from our pasts as something far less valuable than a treasure. Instead, we would prefer that the arithmetic of our lives could subtract the past. Wisdom knows that we will never get the equation to come out right unless we use all the numbers of both the past, present and future.
The number above is actually the distance, in miles, of the size of the observable universe.* This estimate was offered by Professor Stephen Hawking in his classic book, A Brief History of Time. The leading theoretical physicist of our time, Hawking occupies the same position at Cambridge University once held by Sir Isaac Newton. I'm halfway through his book and have a hunch I will not agree with his ideas about the role of God in the creation if the universe, but it is a fascinating read into what we do know about the expanse of the heavens and the infinitely small particles of an atom.
When I first heard this number used my mind raced to its size and how appropriate such a scale is at the start of the new year. We might not reach such a figure in our lifetimes, but we certainly will my come close without an appreciation for where we have come from and all of the people and choices and blessings our pasts have contained.
May the start of 2013 contain for each of us the limitless possibilities granted by the grace and love of God. Peace, Scott