1. Your Past

You can find out a lot about yourself from both science and religious faith. And that’s good news on both fronts.

Science shows that at the time of your conception there were more than a million sperm competing to fertilise a waiting ovum. One did so. Every other combination of sperm and ovum would have been a different person from you. The one moment in the whole history of the universe when any of them could have come into existence passed at that moment. They will never exist. At the one moment when you could have come into existence, you did.

At the one moment when you could have come into existence, you did.

Science also shows that from conception you were a new being - not just a part of your mother or father. Genetically, you were already your own self. There was no other threshold you had to cross over to become the person you are now. It was already you. All you needed was nurture and time to develop.

The moment you came into existence depended on the dynamics of love and body chemistry and circumstances and your parents’ personal histories, reaching back to before they met each other - and even back to before our planet was formed from the gases and dust that swirled about in space billions of years ago. You’ve got quite a pre-history.

Religious faith can add to what science tells you. Faith and science are two different doorways into reality. They are not even in competition with each other. Science seeks to understand everything the universe contains, including what is still waiting to be discovered. Faith is concerned with why there is a universe at all, instead of nothing. Science and faith look at the same reality - it’s just that there are two, equally valid, ways of seeing it.

For Practice

  • Look at a book or video that features the early history of the universe, or the planets, and ponder your pre-history. Also ponder your destiny: you live on a planet that is about halfway through its habitable life because the sun is about halfway through its fuel supply and its own life! (See The Planets, BBC, 1990.) If the scientists are right, the future of the planets is not very bright. So any ultimate, worthwhile hope isn’t going to come from the cosmos.
  • On a clear night, away from city lights, look up at the stars and allow yourself to experience wonder.

For Prayer

O Lord, our Lord
how awesome is your name
through all the earth!
You have set your majesty above the heavens!

When I see your heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and stars that you set in place
What are humans that you are mindful of them,
mere mortals that you care for them?

You have made them little less than a god,
crowned them with glory and honour.
Yet you have given them rule
over the works of your hands,
put all things at their feet:
All sheep and oxen,
even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how awesome is your name
through all the earth!

Psalm 8:1, 3-9

It took the universe a very long time to be ready for us. The galaxies themselves had to be formed (about 15 billion years ago), including eventually, our own sun and solar system (about 5 billion years ago). Then it took another billion years before the earliest forms of life appeared, and another long time before mammals emerged (about 67 million years ago), and another long time before humans appeared (less than 2 million years ago). The whole process began about 20 billion years ago, and so humans are late arrivals. If the time-scale were compressed into a 24-hour period, humans arrived only a couple of minutes ago.

But we are not aliens. Human life is part of the universe itself. Activities that are distinctively human, such as love and smiles, laughter, music, and song, are all made from the fibers of the planet. In a real sense, the planet itself finds expression in us. It finds its voice in our voices.