Chapel – Dr. Loren Wilkinson

Thanks, George for those very kind words and I, I have to, I have to say George was a wonderful student, both personally a good friend to us. And he didn't mention he was, during his time at Regent was elected student council president. And when he led during that year, we felt like we had a, as a school we had a pastor, in George. And you are tremendously fortunate to have him here, as in a sense, your pastor. So, and I must say that George has returned the welcome and Tyndale has returned very much the welcome he spoke of, at Regent those many years ago, astonishing number of years.

As we, as we reflect together the main, George mentioned a book and the main purpose of my this trip that Mary Ruth and I are taking is to talk about that book in several places in Ontario and Quebec. But the purpose of my talk this morning isn't to sell books. Though, as George mentioned, if anyone's interested, he has some copies you can get from him. But I want instead to share some important ideas about our place in the universe. I think they're hinted at pretty well, in the cover of this book, I'm going to come back to that cryptic painting on the cover, in conclusion, but first, I want to try to explain what I'm saying by talking about the words, circles, and the cross, Cosmos consciousness, and the human place in creation. Let's begin with circles. We live inevitably, in the center of circles, stand anywhere and look around you and you're necessarily in the center of a circle. A spatial circle. From our viewpoint, necessarily The Earth is the center from which we look out at the rest of the universe, the cosmos. So the cosmos is the biggest of those circles, the universe we find ourselves in. Another circle we live in is temporal. It's the circle of time, the year goes in a circle. It was the day of the year, spring, summer, winter fall, and then we're back at Spring unless and in the same way your birthday comes up every year. Unless you're lucky or unlucky enough to be born on February 29, any February 29 People here? we know at least one they have a birthday every four years. That extra day in February, every four years of the modern calendar reflects another circle, the Earth goes around the sun, and that planetary circling takes 365 and a quarter days. So every four years, we have to make up the quarter of a day. Otherwise, our calendars would gradually no longer match the seasons.

So circle of time circle of space. Another circle is the circle of our consciousness. Physical physically speaking, we're all just collections of stuff of elements like iron, carbon oxygen, that were originally formed in the heart of stars. Which when they exploded spred their stuff out into space. Until over billions of years, they ended up on the earth and made their way into our bodies. That's actually a picture of one of those exploding stars. Taken from the new James Webb telescope. astonishing detail. You can see that expanding dust cloud around it anyway, you can see that the dust cloud around it, physically speaking, that's what we're made out of, stuff, collections of reassembled stardust. But why is it that this Stardust is also a self capable of celebrating a birthday? Why should we be an I and not just at it? These are mysteries and the fundamental human response to these mysteries of cosmos and consciousness is wonder. Wonder is the soil from which has grown the three great trees of human culture, religion, art, and science. They're often seen as being in tension with each other, but they're closely related and they all have the same route in wonder. Wonder is a necessary first response. Because both these circles are mysteries. No amount of science can answer the questions they ask of us. The circle of the cosmos promotes the philosophers question. Why is there something and not nothing? The circle of consciousness poses another philosophers problem. It's often called the hard problem of consciousness. Why am I aware of myself? What does it mean to be an I and not an IT? Now, one way we approach these mysteries is to ask what story? Are they a part of? What story are we in? And there really are only two possible answers to that basic question only two big stories about the universe. The default modern answer to the question, why is there something and not nothing is, there is no story. The cosmos is an accident. One modern cosmologists puts it The universe is just one of those things that happens from time to time. Everything from stars to the earth to life at our own hard problem of consciousness is just a purpose, purposeless, meaningless accident. Now we can learn a great deal about the features of that accident, some of the features, our brains, our bodies, our life, the Earth, the universe. But when we come to the end, we're met with mystery. Neurologists and psychologists know all sorts of things about how our brain works. But we can't reduce or explain the experience of being a conscious self. And cosmologists have traced the origin of the universe back to the very first milliseconds of the Big Bang, but they can't go further back. Here's what one astronomer wrote about that attempt.

At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who's lived by his faith and the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He scaled the mountains of ignorance. He's about to conquer the highest peak. As he pulls himself up over the final rock, he's greeted by a band of theologians who've been sitting here for centuries. For that older story within which we answer the question, why is there something and not nothing is necessarily religious belief that the conscious that cosmos were part of is a creation. It's a personal product of God, or gods. But in modern times, that ancient story has been replaced by the idea that the universe is only a complicated accident, which accidentally produced life and consciousness and yourself. But that idea that everything in the universe, including ourselves and our own awareness of it our own curiosity about it doesn't make a very satisfactory framework within which to live our lives, few people really believe it. So many thoughtful people today, in modern times, who for one reason or another, have lost their original belief in a creator are looking for some better story then, the universe is an accident. Many of those are slowly sometimes towards the end of the life returning to a belief in a creator. Here's a poem by one of those 20th century thoughtful thinkers, Denise Levertov, it's just the end of a poem, once more, the quiet and mystery is present to me. That there is anything, anything at all, let alone Cosmos, joy, memory, everything rather than void. And that's Oh, Lord, creator, Hallowed one, you still our by our sustain it. Now that a celebratory was a 20th century American poet whose work was concerned with addressing the evils and injustice in the world, like nuclear weapons, or the Vietnam War, she began as an atheist or agnostic assuming that probably the modern story that the universe and we along with it are just an accident. But as she grew older, as she kept writing, she kept struggling with the world, her very sense of beauty, her passion for justice and goodness, cried out for more she expressed it in another poem called simply of being I know this how Happiness is provisional. The looming presence is great suffering great fear, withdraw only into peripheral vision, but ineluctable unavoidable, this shimmering of wind in the Blue Leaves, this flood of stillness, widening the Lake of sky, this need to dance, this need to kneel this mystery. Now, to me, the most significant thing about this poem is its punctuation. Look at it carefully, every phrase and the poem itself ends with a colon. What does a colon suggest in grammar? That the statement isn't finished, that there's more to come. It points ahead, it draws us on. And that's what at the wind wonder at the world does. The beauty of the world draws us on.

Despite our growing understanding of details about how ourselves and the cosmos are put together, we can't really believe it's an accident. For it's also beautiful. Like this hummingbird, one like it returns every spring to the feeder outside our window. It weighs less than a nickel. It has a brain the size of a grain of rice. But it travels every year 1000 miles up the coast from Mexico to a feeder outside of our house, which it remembers, and in the fall goes back this time in the mountains picking up the wildflowers. We have a friend on the island who has held a banded hummingbird that has made that journey six times. He is not a believer, as far as I know. But he couldn't help using the words like marvelous miraculous, to describe the hummingbird which is just one of those details that makes a person like Denise Levertov want to want to kneel, to dance, and especially to kneel which implies prayer. Now I first encountered those, those two poems and a little book by Denise Levertov called the star and the Sapphire toward the end of her life, and she realized that her wonder at the universe and herself had had led her to become a Christian. She collected the poems that trace that pilgrimage from agnosticism to Christianity. It's a wonderful book. Now, inside the front cover of our well worn copy of this book is this little note where you can read it. It says Christmas 97 In celebration of the Incarnation, George the book was a present from from from one, George Sweetman. Who is now your dean of students. Now I include this detail not just to give me a chance to thank him again for this book publicly. And it's influenced me and Mary Ruth a lot. But because of what else he wrote, In celebration of the Incarnation, for all Christmas presents, as his Christmas itself is a celebration of the Incarnation. And the incarnation is the answer to the questions about cosmos and consciousness with which we begin. Now in a very curious way, that suggested by another Christmas present that the world got a little over a year ago. Remember that picture of a ring of stardust expanding from an exploded star that was taken recently from the James Webb orbiting telescope, which was launched for French Guiana on Christmas morning 2022. Now the fact that it was launched on Christmas morning, that's it taking off about 3am on the west coast, but I was up watching. The fact that it was launched on a Christmas morning is pure coincidence, the result of a long stream of delays the last one bad luck weather at their launch site. Also probably God's sense of humour. Here's a picture of the last view anyone will ever have that telescope is it separated from the final stage of its rocket and headed for its very carefully chosen orbit about a million miles out. Here's an artist's rendering of what the James Webb Telescope looks like now fully deployed with its big umbrella to keep the heat and the light of the sun off. So it can can register infrared. It's a great human achievement. And it continues to send back amazing photos like this one from a site in the constellation Orion where stars are being formed, referred to as a star nursery. Or this one from over 13 billion light years away of galaxies formed near the beginning of the universe.

So the James Webb Telescope is one of only one of our scientific attempts to answer those questions we began with, it's looking for light. From near the beginning of the cosmos, it's looking for other signs of life and the possibility of consciousness in the cosmos. And I wish it great success in those searches. And watching online, I joined with the scientists in the control center on a Christmas morning 15 months ago as they shouted, go Webb, after the receding telescope. But the gift of that lunch being on Christmas Day, that divine coincidence, I think, is it it reminds us that the answers it is seeking are in a sense already found in the incarnation. Jesus was born into the same cosmos that the scientists are now exploring. We live in one world, not a scientific world and a religious one. One of the songs you you folks sang was let your light shine on us? Well, there's a continuity between that light and the light from the beginning that the telescope is looking for. We live in one world not two where as the telescope is seeking an answer to those mysteries of cosmos and consciousness, John's Gospel begins with the answer. You know the words very well, in the beginning was the Word. Through him all things were made in Him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness again, you sang about that? The darkness does not overcome it. And then John condenses the significance of his very brief Christmas story doesn't go into details about wise men and shepherds and so forth, condenses it all into one brief statement, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Now, we're in the middle of Lent. Getting closer to Holy Week and Easter, which reminds us of how the incarnation, the birth of Jesus culminates in the cross. mention of the cross takes me back to the cover of that book. The title is circles and the cross. That phrase, alludes to an ancient Christian symbol. It's particularly prominent on the Celtic fringes of the British Isles. It's often called the Celtic cross. Here is a Celtic cross, carved by our son Eric from a Yellow Cedar Log he found on the beach, carved with a chainsaw. It marks the grave of some family dogs, and as it shows up in many cemeteries in Ireland and Scotland, and the ashes of some friends. It stands on the lawn above the beach by our house on retreat cove on Galiano Island. But notice that this old symbol places the cross at the center of the circle, the cross is bigger than the circle. It holds the circle up. Now we all know what the cross means. It was a Roman instrument of torture. For 2000 years, it's also pointed to Christ who died on such a cross. Christians believe that Christ, the crucified Christ, is the clearest picture we have of the God who creates the cosmos. This is what God is like. This shows us the love of the Creator. They've been lots of speculation about what the circle of the Celtic cross stands for. I suspect it describes both of those mysteries we began with cosmos and consciousness. The circles are not just zeros, a picture of nothing. Rather they're pictures of the world and of ourselves upheld, centered on the love of God. A God whose sacrificial love sustains the cosmos.

The Cross has cosmic significance. Many artists have tried to show this in the last century, the Spanish painter Salvador Dali painted this very famous picture of the crucified Christ looking down at the World It's a powerful painting, and I love it. But the problem is that it shows Christ above the world detached from it. The painting doesn't catch the intimacy of the incarnation of John's words that the word through whom all things hold together, became a part of the world. That didn't Eugene Peterson's words, moved into the neighborhood. A few years ago, before George came to regent as a student, I had another student Lindsey Ferrell, he painted this picture. He was an artist from Australia. Along with his family, he came on an Australian Government grant to study landscape painting and its relationship to faith. While he was here, in our part of the world, we were engaged in an ongoing argument about logging. And the fact that it was being done with very little awareness of the damage it was doing to our part of the world. And the church that Lindsey went to arranged for him to do a painting during holy week, the week before Easter, in the atrium, a lot of a large shopping mall in Vancouver. And this large triptych, it's very large, it's four by 12 feet, is the result. It hangs in a room in our house that looks out on the on this scene. And which you I hope you notice is it's called Easter journey. The figure on the left in the painting is, is that island that we that you see in front of our house. The figure in the center is the same island. clear cut, logged as it is now much of much of BC and much of our island is and much of the world. But of course that central figure is more than a clear cut. It's also the head of Christ on the cross. The painting is in dialogue with Salvador Dali's famous painting of the cross suspended above the world. But this artist gets the Incarnation exactly right. The suffering Christ is in the center of creation, holding it up, embracing it. The figure on the right is first of all, a mountain lake but it's also an empty tomb. For us, we know the cross is not the end of the story. Nor is the destruction which we cause the end of earthly creation, Easter promises, a new beginning, a renewed creation.

I leave you with one last painting by another Spaniard Diego Velazquez. And one last poem by Denise Levertov about this painting. It's called the serving girl Ameus now you know the story of Ameus in Luke's gospel, to discourage followers of Jesus are joined by a stranger as they walk to their home in the village of Ameus he shows them from their scripture that they should not be surprised that the one they thought was the Messiah had suffered and died. They asked him to stay for supper, to break bread with him. Velasco paints that scene. You can see it up there in the upper left hand corner. But his focus is on the imagined servant girls thoughts. She listens, listens, holding her breath. Surely that voice is his. The one who had looked at her once across the crowd, as no one had ever looked, had seen her had spoken as if to her. Surely those hands were his taking the platter of bread from hers just now. Hands he laid on the dying and made them Well, surely that face the man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy. The man whose body disappeared from its tomb. The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning alive. Those who had brought this stranger back to their table don't recognize yet with whom they sit that she in the kitchen absently touching the wine jug she's to take in a young black servant, intently listening. Swings round and sees the light around him and is sure as we approach Easter, let us remember to be astonished at the miracle of the circle of the cosmos, the circle of your own awareness of it. But above all, let us remember that the center of those circles is the cross. The clearest picture we have of the love of God. Get in through whom the cosmos was created, who became flesh and dwelt among us. Through Christ through the Spirit. we're invited into the renewing of creation, you and me so remember the significance of the cross at the center of circle and Cosmos. Amen.

Chapel – Dr. Loren Wilkinson
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