Peering (‘earing) into the Darkness, or Modern Iconography

My last couple of posts have been concerned with the emergence of ugly things but I find that if i can sit long enough and wait and allow my fists (literal & figurative) to unclench, stillness ensues and comfort comes.

Once upon a time I was a student of Joanna Macy’s (if you don’t know her, you should. Start here.) We were, as it happens (see previous posts), learning to mourn. Everyone feels sad every now and again, but this exercise was aimed more at facing the arrogance of humanity & its complicity in the degradation of God’s creation, specifically of the natural world. Each of us was to choose an object from nature with which to dialogue, just the kind of exercise that, while seeing, in principle, the value of, I must confess to finding, personally, utterly cringeworthy. I chose a rock. Joanna signed the book Thinking Like a Mountain, ‘To Dear Rock’.

This came to mind a few evenings ago crossing the bridge on foot on my way home. That day my mind had been blown by the images of Young Tau, that precocious little million year old star, 450 light years* away, with its flamenco skirt swinging around it, a disk positively shining, made up of a series of bright, concentric rings, separated by gaps .

young tau

This is what I read from the press release from the European Southern Observatory site:

“Stars like HL Tau and our own Sun form within clouds of gas and dust that collapse under gravity. Over time, the surrounding dust particles stick together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger size rocks, which eventually settle into a thin disc where asteroids, comets and planets form. Once these planetary bodies acquire enough mass, they [and please note the striking collection of verbs that follow!] dramatically reshape the structure of the disk, fashioning rings and gaps as the planets sweep their orbits clear of debris and shepherd dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.”

I was remembering the stone, the living stone, the stone becoming,






Will you ever look at a stone again in the same way? Will it not be illumined?

The science–the knowledge–is amazing enough but what particularly interests me, aside from the sheer poetry of creation and humanity’s participation with it, is the fact of the image(s). A new image. Something never before seen. We are saturated in imagery in this age. Can we take it in? This is something that humanity has never before seen! This plays wildly in my mind.

High on a plateau in Chile, in a large desert expanse, there is what looks to be a little field of mushrooms with their domed caps turned upward.

Image by Babak Tafreshi

By Babak Tafreshi

This is Alma, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array. Alma is very clever and I would say synaesthetic for she can take even better pics than Hubble, but she is not in the business of capturing light. Alma tunes in to radio waves instead and these, it turns out, are like the X-ray specs I used to read about in comics. Word is that the radio sky looks quite different than the visible sky. If you ever looked at the sky with a radio telescope you wouldn’t see pin-prick stars, you’d see it looking perhaps fuzzier, filled rather with distant pulsars, star-forming regions, and supernova remnants. Alma can see right through the massive cloud of dust and gas Young Tau is dancing behind and she does this by cooperating with another antennas in the field. Mostly antennas are a couple of kilometers apart. Alma is considered one of the greats because she plays with others at a distance of about 15 kilometres to make her gorgeous ‘radio images’!

I confess I don’t really get it all in a scientific sense. I don’t know what it means that radio waves are longer than optical waves and I don’t know whether that is even of importance to understand. I know what I see. But these images are iconic in the true sense: a sign of the presence of God, something that travels a path from the visible to the invisible, the material (pixelated) to the spiritual. They are images, sacred doorways indeed, to pray with.


*what is a light year really, you ask? See here.


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