Spirit Quest and the cosmos


Spirit Quest

From a Northern Perspective

'Half our amino acids are fingerprints of terrestrial life and also of cosmic organic chemistry'

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

1 February 2013 — My blood followed the mercury to below zero, or so it seemed. It was not the temperature of the environment that caused this chill but the ethereal spectacle that I beheld.

Before me hung a curtain of light that was shot through by beams of red, green and orange. I had heard about Northern Lights “back home” in Europe but could not have  imagined what I now beheld.

I was returning home from the post office pulling my sleigh with my dog perched in its box proudly guarding the mail. It gets dark early in northern Saskatchewan, but when I emerged from the woods to cross the field to our log home, all was suddenly bright with colour. Strangely, my dog paid no attention to this phenomenon.

I had only been in Canada a year, a time filled with all kinds of surprises but this one took the proverbial cake. A gauzelike drape had descended on my small world from the black sky above. It waved and rippled and changed colour dramatically.

I was only ten years old, still very much a European city kid and unfamiliar with the new environment in which I found myself. I have seen Aurora Borealis since but never quite what I had experienced on that November night. All this came back to me when I read the article in the most recent edition of the Canadian Geographic. It was accompanied by fantastic photographs and told about tourists that travel north to remote areas, to Yellowknife and Fort Churchill, to sit out in the frigid night to watch this celestial theatre.

“Sun Struck,” the article’s headline above a photo of the sun’s inferno announces and then goes on “For scientists and northern lights rubberneckers, 2013 promises to be a once-in-a decade opportunity to experience the sun’s magnetic power at its height.” So writes Peter McMahon, a science writer based in Port Hope, Ontario. Our sun is beaming powerful solar flares in our direction which upon hitting our atmosphere produce this wonder.

It isn’t all beautiful and benign. Jessie Tahirali writes in the same article that, “Strong solar emissions directed to Earth are rare enough to have little effect on the average person’s daily life, but past events suggest that an adequately strong and well aimed solar event has the potential to do significant damage.” She refers to what happened in March of 1989 when “a magnetic storm  tripped the circuit breakers of Hyro Quebec’s power grid, causing a nine-hour blackout for six million people.” Canada is particularly vulnerable inasmuch as most of northern Canada sits under the Auroral Oval, a doughnut-like area that surrounds the north pole. We are, therefore, concerned to know as much as possible about northern lights in order to be better prepared.

There is a tea that I particularly enjoy, its call Celestial Seasoning. That pretty well describes what happens around and above us. Nature is anything but dull but filled with surprises that are both beautiful and, well, menacing. Nature is well seasoned.

One of my Christmas gifts is a book called Stardust Revolution by Jacob Berkovitz, a friend who lives in Almonte, Ontario. Jake makes the point that us humans have our home in stardust. Space is not empty as it once was thought but filled with stardust as he calls it. It isn’t alien material but is the matter from which all of life emerges and returns.

“Our bodies both manufacture and require amino acids identical to those contained in metorites that, until recently, were at home in the asteroid belt between Mards and Jupiter. Almost half of our amino acids  are fingerprints not only of terrestrial life but also of cosmic organic chemistry.” so writes Berkovitz. What scientists have discovered is the source of all life from bacteria to supernova and black holes to humans like you and I. It is a fascinating read.

All this knowledge that we are acquiring certainly disposes of those simplistic ideas we have had of the origin of life. But more than anything it also raises profound new questions. Jake in his book tells about the research into the origin of the cosmos: stardust!.

Standing awestruck as I did on that night 70 years ago  continues to enthrall me and gives me a sense that I belong to a creation before whom I can only bow in wonder and awe.

There is a Spirit alive in the Aurora as in the tiniest of particles that also dwell  in me. I dare not be so arrogant to claim to understand it, or to treat it with disdain.

One of my most prized books is called The Universe Story, co-written by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. I have read it several time and will doubtless read it again. Its  subtitle  is From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era. A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. That is what religion, faith, spirituality is about — the celebration of the cosmos. Who can resist it standing under the splendour of the Northern Lights?

“For the beauty of the earth,
    for the beauty of the skies,
         for the love which from our birth over and around us lies....”