Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Thought of the Day: 'The hours' and the universe
Is the world dramatic? Does a lot happen in it? Of course it is, and yes it does. The cosmos swirls and roars with activity, from the orbits of galaxies and the fission of stars to the activities of billions of people on Earth and the molecular reactions that drive all of life. It's busy, all the time. But what strikes me, in sporadic moments of silence, is just how quiet it can all seem. Not necessarily peaceful or restful--sometimes just quiet and empty. I live in downtown Chicago, and yet, at times during the mid morning or early afternoon or evening, I look out my window at the stoic skyscrapers, and, unless I peer down to the sidewalks below, I see no evidence that anything or anyone is moving. It's creepy. This sense of isolation no doubt contributed to some apparent depression last year, my first full year of working from home. I do not always find it relaxing. I usually find it maddening. I thought of this while riding home from an interview with a source in Evanston yesterday. On the way back, I thought how much different my morning would have been had I not left the apartment, gotten on the train as it rattled its way north, seen the buildings scanned by the window, and met with what turned out to be a vivacious person for a fascinating conversation. On the way home, I read the paper, with its unending stories of houses burning, people dying, and leaders resigning--monotonous melodrama that suggests that human existence is loud, dizzying and chaotic. As I look out from my apartment, that narrative seems remote and contrived.

Only a fraction of the globe is inhabited by life that can be seen without a microscope or magnifying glass, as far as I know. That means that each day there are vast stretches of created space where nothing humanly visible transpires. This inspires the industrialist to conquer the wilderness and impose human activity upon it. It confuses the theologian, who wonders whether God created a surfeit of space for his own amusement or our breathing room. It baffles me. I am astounded by the contrast between the hum of the city when I walk through it and the blankness of the quiet moments I experience and quiet places I imagine elsewhere. And I am worried that I do not usually sense the presence of God potentially transcendent moments. Perhaps my senses are shot thanks to our noisy culture. Perhaps God just is not burning to say very much to me right now (that he hasn't already said in Scripture and through other people). Perhaps, even, the terror of the emptiness of the universe is a form of awe of it.

As I was writing this, it was eerily quiet around me, and then my wife called me on my cell phone. Sometimes such an intrusive alarm--particularly when it corresponds to her--is inexplicably uplifting.

Previous Thought: Depression in pre-modern times

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