Friday, August 24, 2007

Earth and Sky

NGC 1818: A Young Globular Cluster  - Credit: Diedre Hunter (Lowell Obs.) et al., HST, NASA

Google Earth with Sky has grabbed a lot of attention, as anything Google Inc does. But I hope it helps the astronomy software field. It's got some competitors that do things alittle differently. It's really part of a spectrum of softwares for astronomy. The main free alternatives I use are Stellarium and Celestia. All three are free - there are other softwares that aren't free but since I work for a school system, free software is very welcome, and versions of each software run on various platforms, allowing for diversity of use.

Stellarium represents one end of that spectrum - it's more your classic planetarium software - you are on the Earth looking at the sky. You can anchor yourself to a particular place, though you can zoom out to look closely as if you were using a telescope. But there's no illusion that you are off the planet. You can add random meteors and twinkling in the stars, atmospheric effects. It's also got a feel for the way stars move across the sky - that things go around the poles. You can adjust things so they follow that pattern and change the day/time or the rate of time passing forward or backwards.

Google Earth with Sky is similar but it takes you somewhat off the planet. It has a few minor options as if you were on the planet but there's never a horizon. Being a bit more "out there" it has a better zooming view of things in the night sky - and it has a large database of pictures available. It goes deeper than Stellarium does by default.

Celestia is the other end of the spectrum - it's way out there. It's designed to actually leave the Earth and wander the stars or even among galaxies - it has a kind of warp speed function and a variety of navigation controls. It comes with a database of 35 MB or so but there's some 250GB of stuff over at Motherload of both real data and fictional data. There's a very big universe out there.

credit:National Optical Astronomy Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy/National Science Foundation, Copyright WIYN Consortium, Inc., all rights reserved.

Astronomy and the natural world are commented on in the Bahá'í Writings - here's some snippets:

..whatever I behold I readily discover that it maketh Thee known unto me, and it remindeth me of Thy signs, and of Thy tokens, and of Thy testimonies. By Thy glory! Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence.

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion.

So learning of the world of nature has much to teach us - and these astronomy softwares are a venue to learn about some of that world that might be a bit removed from the average person. It expands our minds of what is and what might be - how far and wide and high things are, and beautiful in ways no thing on the planet can be. It can wet the appetite for a more direct experience - laying out in the grass watching the night sky, or visiting area observatories where you can see for your self with your own eyes, or setting your camera to a long exposure time to capture the night sky in more detail then you would just by glancing up. The Pleiades are held up as a symbol of the unity we should strive for!

The Pleiades Star Cluster  Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Expanding on this theme is the question of life in the universe beyond our planet. A subject that gets little or no comment in other Books of God has now been given some attention - perhaps there is something we need to be more aware of.... Not only does the Bahá'í faith accept that all the well known religions are inspired of one God and the aboriginal faith traditions are reflections of that same inspiration, but Bahá'í writings refer to Prophets "bearing a Message to God's creatures in each of the worlds whose number God, alone, in His all-encompassing knowledge, can reckon" which are "inhabited by beings capable of knowing God."(see "our planet" link for refs.) Some of us even have a Seti team for Seti@Home- Bahá'í Seti!

One of the qualities of nature and our perception of it is that our appreciate shows a limit of itself. Let me explain - Bahá'u'lláh says in the Valley of Unity: "In like manner, colors become visible in every object according to the nature of that object. For instance, in a yellow globe, the rays shine yellow; in a white the rays are white; and in a red, the red rays are manifest. Then these variations are from the object, not from the shining light." So things we see by reflection or emission show the part they share in common with light but of which they are not internally. Green leaves reflect green, yet are not of themselves green - they are, internally, red. Likewise things we see by their emission are sharing a part of themselves with us - but they remain behind, and some part not seen. Think of it like reading braille - we perceive the bumps of things, not the paper of which they are made - our senses are geared to read the bumps. Indeed in a curious way we also do not see the light itself - we see what the light is carrying and don't see what the light is itself. So light and all things are, like God, the manifest and hidden!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Feeling God in our lives....

I have wondered about a generalized perspective about one's life as a Bahá'í (or really any religion - this is about conversion experiences), even so that some become inactive, that people are wistful of their early days, somehow feeling closer to God then....

I have thought to examine The Seven Valleys (and where those valleys are referenced in Gems of Divine Mysteries) for descriptions of experiences or "active" connections with spiritual feelings from the next world or God....


The Valley/City of Search
(Seven Valleys)
At every step, aid from the Invisible Realm will attend him and the heat of his search will grow.
(Gems of Divine Mysteries)
God may guide him in the paths of His favour and the ways of His mercy...He beholdeth the wonders of Divinity in the mysteries of creation and discovereth the paths of guidance and the ways of His Lord.

Those mysterious alignments - "there are no accidents", coincidences that seem too meaningful to be coincidences.

The Valley/City of Love...
(Seven Valleys)
until thou burn with the fire of love, thou shalt never commune with the Lover of Longing.
Be as naught, if thou wouldst kindle the fire of being and be fit for the pathway of love.
(Gems of Divine Mysteries)
He yieldeth up spirit, soul, and body in the path of his Lord, and yet he doeth so by the leave of his Beloved and not of his own whim and desire....consumed by the onslaught of separation in this world.... His eyes are ever expectant to witness the wonders of God’s mercy and eager to behold the splendours of His beauty.

Here there seems to be a paucity of experiences - at best delayed until later. If this is a stage where voyagers "get religion" then they also discover they don't "feel" God like they may reflect they did during their search even if they didn't really "get it" then. They struggle to be obedient and may in fact be, but feel the separation.

The Valley of Knowledge
(Seven Valleys)
His inner eyes will open and he will privily converse with his Beloved... and consorteth with the people of the immortal realm.
(Gems of Divine Mysteries skips)

Again some kind of active experience, but directly consciously, very real.

The Valley/City of Unity
(Seven Valleys)
seeth the brilliant rays of the divine sun shining from the dawning-point of Essence alike on all created things, and the lights of singleness reflected over all creation.... His shining becometh visible in every limb and member.
(Gems of Divine Mysteries)
beholdeth all things with an eye illumined by the effulgent lights which God Himself hath shed upon him.

And so on through the rest of the Valleys. Let's suppose that most of the people who look to change their religion get the Valley of Search, and a good number of them ( who can overcome reasons not to change) get to the Valley of Love and "get religion". They then can loose their "heat" as they obey without seeming aid which they now feel they have lost -those accidents we now feel more keenly from the past - they know God and His Faith but it's not as alive as it was when they were looking.... Not until they pass the Valley of Love do they again engage personal experience, but this time selflessly, a spiritual internal connection. But they do so selflessly only because of the love they have felt - the binding to God. And the experience gets even more powerful after that...

More on the Valley of Unity next time....Feeling

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

a dog, a life

Fifteen years ago a little wet mess of a dog entered the world while we lived in Chatham County, NC. One of a few to match his mother's eyes, he was her constant companion, and ours too when we wasn't lost wandering the neighborhood. Bapu we named him - affectionally after the friendly nickname of Mohandas Ghandi - I think it means "little father". We had hopes that Bapu, or "Bu" for short, would one day have a chance to pass on his blue eyes but that was not to be. He was a good dog - tender to the family, a good loud bark to strangers, and once in a blue moon defended the family from some of the gang dogs of the neighborhood - even broke a tooth once. Purple heart, so to speak.

This picture is near his peak physical form - he filled out quite impressively. I have lived with several dogs over the years but it was not until now in my adulthood that I was to see one pass on.

Having recently had Sally's father leave this life behind, Katarina is processing this business of dying - she had broke into a song-prayer recently saying "Grampa will die no more, no - he ain't going to die no more, No! He wont die no more!"... sounded like a good old spiritual. This time she started listing things that can die or not (window, mirror, car, hair can't die.) She was sad that Bu died.

Sally and I are sad too - Bapu was almost as old as our marriage. It's weird that Bapu's mother who has suffered more medical problems and dire prognosis should outlast him. And yet it also seems to fit - Spirit has something of an indomitable spirit to her - pretty much why we named her Spirit!

The spirit with which Bapu lived affected many lives - friends and family were accepted and marked with a good lick or three. Spare a moment and lick someone, or some other gesture of belonging, to some friend or family. It'll be Bu's last licks.