Friday, December 08, 2006

A Scientist's Christmas

Last night I was walking through Harvard Square and noticed these awesome Christmas lights hanging above the street:

Here is a spiral galaxy, complete with blue "star-forming regions"

Here, a neutron star with its "cometary knots"

Ok, so maybe the cometary knots take a bit of imagination. But actually I see a lot more than that.

In those twinkling lights I see purely rational, purely natural reasons to love thy enemy, to do onto others, cherish life, teach peace, and practice compassion - you know, all those Christmassy ideas.

When I look up and see these lights I get a warm, fuzzy feeling... Because to me, these secular decorations are the expression of a community with something grander and more beautiful to celebrate than bronze-age myths. They recognize and respect that our origins are tied to cosmic events much longer ago and further away - but still very much ours.

I have to wonder, is this what the so-called culture warriors are worried about? That people like me will see these non-religious displays and...well and what? Are these lights, these ideas, the "War on Christmas?"

I see them as an acknowledgment that our natural heritage extends the story and values of Christmas with an additional 14 billion years of meaning. Meaning that even its namesake could not have appreciated given the knowledge of the day.

These decorations tell a story that still allows a covenant - a covenant with mystery. A scientist's Christmas has humility and dignity both. It is humble enough to admit that our knowledge of the sacred will always be incomplete, without the need to declare "war" on anything but ignorance. There is plenty of mystery to celebrate and plenty of ignorance to fear - Merry Christmas.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we could all think this way year round?

Keep on smiling and looking for the wonder!

Gwyn said...

I finally got a chance to read this revised version--wow. The ending in particular is really lovely: "without the need to declare "war" on anything but ignorance." YES. Thanks--this post made me smile.