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Limited Selves in a Limitless Universe

To start this month, I’m going to invite you to watch this video: (go right ahead, I’ll wait here). For those of you who can’t spare the time, or who are reading this on paper, I’ll explain. The video is a short piece from Alok Jha, science correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, and in it he gives a very brief synthesis of some of the big ideas that made Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, world-famous. There are three things from this video that prompt some theological reflection for me. It’s quick to watch, and I think it’s pretty fun, but if you can’t check it out, don’t worry – I’ll provide what you need:

1) The incredible mass of a black hole makes it

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nearly impossible for matter or energy to escape it – and paradoxically, causes it to slowly shrink down to nothing over a long enough period of time. There is so much pressure in our world to get big: to be the most, the greatest, the whatever-est of whatever sort of thing you are. Now, the impulse to succeed is not a bad thing, and if you’re doing something good, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do more of it. But seeking power or importance for its own sake is ultimately a profoundly self-destructive path. Just as for a black hole, on a long enough time scale, the pursuit of vain glory leaves nothing to endure.

2) “At one point, everything in our universe was squeezed into a singularity.” I love thinking about this one – everything crunched down into one unthinkably small point. The sum of all things compacted tighter than when college students used to cram into telephone booths. (What are telephone booths? Ask your parents to ask their parents, kids.) Somehow, everything existed once without the benefit of special separation. This reminds me that we human creatures, tiny fragments of the universe that we are, ought to be able to find a way to exist together under what are clearly more favorable circumstances. Once, everything was a part of everything else. And that is still true today, in its own way, if we can only remember it.

3) “Stephen Hawking…came up with all these profound, provocative insights, without the convenience of being able to write anything down.” This is a slight exaggeration. Hawking was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS when he was 21, but he had several more years before he lost the ability to write completely. Still, the overwhelming majority of his work has been done without the straight-forward ability to take notes or jot down ideas. That strikes me as monumentally hard – to reason through complex equations with nothing but your own thought-process to rely on. Hawking has explained that this has required him to create his own methods for process and calculating, some of which involve inventive visualization. He is a famously, scarily-smart individual doing work vastly beyond my grasp, so I won’t pretend that this is somehow an easy or a simple solution. Yet, I am inspired by the ability of any other human being, no less mortal than I, to find a creative solution when faced with such a profound limitation. It is astonishing what human beings are capable of, and if we are not all super-geniuses, that does not absolve us of the responsibility to do what we can. In the midst of a vast, strange, and expanding universe, it is up to us to grow into the best versions of ourselves that we can.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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