After a frustrating beginning to what was going to be my summer of astrophotography, the past few weeks have delivered! This past week, I had a near perfect night to capture this image of Andromeda. It represents 50 minutes of data capture from my Dwarf II smart telescope. Here are two different edits I made.
As I was sitting at my patio enjoying the night sky, I was reflecting on the question of time. As I mentioned earlier, these images represent 50 minutes of data collection. My little Dwarf II took 200 fifteen second pictures with the camera gain set to 80. I then converted the files to a .fits format and stacked them in Affinity Photo for editing.
Stacking astronomy images gives you more data to help create a cleaner image of the night sky than what our eyes can see. I’ve often heard it said that long exposure astrophotography is showing us what our eyes could see if they could collect more light (and some creative editing in artistic software programs). While imaging Andromeda, I played with a different idea of light collection, “What if a better analogy is that in order to see our world more clearly we need to ‘suspend time?'”
What do I mean? As I’ve shared in the past, modern science questions our current understanding of time. Does time actually exist? Is it simply the measure of decay? Is it St. Augustine’s understanding of time being the observation of physical, moral and spiritual change? These are fascinating and, if you’re not careful, rather dizzying philosophical and scientific questions to explore.
As I watched the image of Andromeda build on my cell phone, I had a thought: “What if time is simply the fracturing or dividing of reality into smaller aspects of a whole?” This question reminded me of my time as a college student at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. The Priest Chaplain of our Newman Center was very effective at giving us analogies to help us understand our faith. When it came to the relationship between time and our understanding of God, he would say that our perspective of time is like watching a movie on a reel to reel projector one frame at a time. God’s understand of creation is as if the entire reel was unraveled and the entire movie was perceived in a moment.
Is this how a timeless God perceives time? As always, analogies limp and if turned into doctrinal statements can lead to error in a hurry. Still, I wondered if instead of unraveling the reel of film, perhaps the better analogy is that time is like all the frames of a movie being stacked into a composite. Is our perception of time pointing us to a forward goal of understanding or is time actually pointing us inward to a far deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us?
I wish to clarify, this analogy of time and God is not meant to be a scientific statement or some new philosophical or theological truth. At best, I see this idea as a heuristic device to lead to a truer understanding of time, recognizing from the beginning that my idea isn’t one to be pursued seriously. Rather, its meant to affirm that time is far more relative than we ever imagined. Therefore, we should play with different understandings of time – scientifically, philosophically, and theologically – to help us understand the world we live in.
A healthier application may be to approach this from examining your own life. If I were to talk with you and learn about everything you’ve done since getting out of bed this morning, would that give me a complete understanding of who you are? Wouldn’t I get a better “image” of who you are by “stacking” every day of your life into a composite to be contemplated? Wouldn’t I get a better understanding of this composite if I understood the motivations, desires, hopes, fears, joys and sorrows that lay beneath each frame? And wouldn’t it give me the clearest vision of who you are to explore how and why the Master Artist brought the creation of you into this world as an irreplaceable part of God’s plan of salvation? Wouldn’t the suspension of time and experiencing the composite bring us greater clarity than fixating on a single moment or a single frame of film?
“Fr. James, I think you need to get out a little more or breathe in some fresh air.” If that’s your response to my reflection, you’re probably right! Still, there’s something in these thoughts that helps me find peace of heart.
Spiritual Exercise: What is the “composite image” of your life? If I could “stack the slides” of you, what would the world see? If your answer is, a complicated mess, congratulations! You are officially a part of the human race. Amid that mess, can you also see how God has brought you to this particular moment through reflecting on the whole of your life? Are you willing to see the true composite of you as a loved child of God or are you judging yourself with a fragment of “time” that was of success or failure? Pray with this today and may all of us see the full reality of who we are. May we come to see the composite of our lives as God desires them to be observed: As a part of the beauty of God’s creation and plan for salvation.