Maybe you heard the news ten days ago that scientists have detected gravity waves. Apparently, a billion light-years away (which is to say a billion years ago and far, far away), two black holes collided and merged.
Now, if you are like me, you might have had to brush up on your quantum physics a bit—or just to have watched a few select Star Trek reruns—to figure this news out. A black hole, I learned, is created when an old star dies. The star collapses in on itself, becoming infinitely heavy and producing a very large gravity field. The gravity force is so large that even light cannot escape. So we call the collapsed dead star a “black hole.”
A black hole pulls everything nearby into it. And inside a black hole, matter and space and time cease to have meaning, cease to exist. At least that’s the theory. Unlike in Star Trek, no one has ever been inside a black hole and returned to tell the tale. The closest we have come, from a billion light-years away, is to hear a small “chirp” produced by two black holes sucking each other up into utter darkness.
I remember hearing a sermon about black holes some 20 years ago preached by Jack Woodard. Jack said that we see black holes form one perspective, from the dying star perspective. But Jack showed us some early Hubble Telescope photos showing a great light on the other side of a black hole, creation on the other side, he said. Something new apparently is born from a dead star, from a black hole. Jack’s point was that God always creates “very good” new things from old dead things.
Extending Jack’s point a bit further, maybe death is required for creation to occur. On a personal level, maybe we have to journey through a terrifying darkness, through our own black hole, to get to new and wondrous light.
I wonder if you have experienced a black hole in your own life?
- The surgery or chemotherapy that led to a cure.
- Loss of a dead-end job that led to vocation.
- Bottoming out to discover and recover from addiction.
- The death of a loved one we have become assured has received eternal life.
I wonder if we, collectively, are approaching a black hole in our Resurrection life, fearful of what our property redevelopment will bring.
These were my musings this week when I read today’s Old Testament lesson. There we hear the story of God’s making a covenant with Abram, a man who we later know as Abraham, using a very strange liturgy. Three of our world’s major religions count Abe as their patriarch.
As I was pondering the covenant God make with Abram, the promise God made, I noticed—really noticed—for the first time that Abram fell asleep in the middle of the covenant ceremony. Sort of like falling into a depressive trance in the middle of your wedding (not a good sign!).
Except, this wasn’t any old wedding ceremony, but God himself making an eternal covenant with Abram and his descendants forever.
This wasn’t any old sleep, either. Our lesson says, “a deep and terrifying darkness descended on [Abram].” A deep and terrifying darkness. Here was Abe, halfway between being a wandering Aramean and a being a man with a God-mission, and he was sucked into his very own black hole.
The timing seems too precise to have been random. Maybe passing through a black hole is required to approach God. Could this be the case?
- Joseph, for example, had to be removed from his family and pulled into Egypt before he got divested of his ego enough to save his people from famine.
- As Linda Goff reminded us a few weeks ago, the Israelite slaves had to leave Egypt and live in the wilderness to get to their promised land.
- The Psalm 51 sermon on Ash Wednesday reminded us that King David had to suffer the death of his son to return him, repentant, to the Lord.
- And in a few short weeks we will see that Peter had to deny Jesus three times before he found the courage to live dangerously by preaching Jesus in every synagogue he encountered.
I could go on and on. But the ultimate example is the Jesus story: a painful death on a cross before he could conquer death and create new life. As our gospel lesson today attests, Jesus knew full well he was destined for this particular black hole in Jerusalem.
Black holes. Apparently God leads us through dark and terrifying places to create new realities in our lives. God, apparently, pulls us into black holes to strip us of whatever things blind us to God and to God’s infinite love.
God, apparently, wants us to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” and yet “fear no evil.” God, apparently, wants us to remember that God is always with us, before and inside and after being in black holes.
The darkness of a black hole is, indeed, terrifying. But the covenant that God made with Abram those many light-millenia ago extends to us today. Fear not, take courage, God is calling us into a new reality, a reality he covenanted long ago, one that will last forever.