This past week, I enlisted the help of a good friend to “doctor” some of my astro-gear. My friend’s name is Mike Brown, a very active member of the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society. My astro-gear issues were trying to fix an old Celestron goto mount and to figure out why the secondary mirror on my Celestron C6 was loose. In typical Mike Brown fashion, the fixes were relatively easy – The power outlet was bad and the lock on my secondary mirror came loose. It’s always nice having friends who are smarter than I with a heart to help.
After assessing our astronomical “patients'” problems, we spent some time talking about Mike’s astrophotography. Recently, Mike posted an image on Social Media that was a “mistake.” Mike thought he was imaging a well-known deep sky object, but his program pointed him to a part of the night sky that wasn’t extraordinary at all. Mike gave me permission to post his image. Here it is!
Mike was amazed at how many people reacted to this image. “I don’t get it Father – It’s just a bunch of stars.” I thought about it and I think I came up with a good “why” answer to Mike’s confusion. The image that Mike took wasn’t of a well-known deep space object that we’ve seen hundreds of times in magazines, news stories and social media. It didn’t have the majesty of the Orion Nebula nor the feel of a mystical wonderland that is the Eagle Nebula edited in the Hubble Color Pallet. The image is ordinary to the astrophotographer, but was new and fresh to the astro-novice. To simplify my speculation – Mike was able to show how extraordinary the ordinary actually is!
My eyes also see this image as extraordinary. The reason I wanted Mike to look at my old gear is to use it to study star spectra. I love taking beautiful images of the night sky, but I want to do some real science. These past months I’ve been studying how to capture star spectra with grating filters. The grating filter I’m going to purchase isn’t on par with a professional spectrograph, but does offer a chance to do ongoing study of a “boring star.” Mike’s star field image got me exciting, seeing all the potential stars I could get data on in the future!
Do I think I will make any new discoveries like pinpointing when Betelgeuse will go supernova or discover a new planet transiting a distant star? Nope. I actually want to look at stars we already know have planets to teach myself how to read spectral data. In short, I want to do some pretty ordinary science, with ordinary stars, with ordinary gear, in the hopes of getting ordinary results. And I am excited to do ordinary science!
There is a trap many people of faith fall into when trying to find God in the world around them – Focusing only on the extraordinary. My journey with faith and science through astronomy has found the opposite to be true. I find God more in the ordinary than in the extraordinary.
I find closeness to God every time I look at a clear night sky and simply utter, “Wow!!” I find closeness to God when I pray before the Blessed Sacrament or while walking through a park with Rosary in hand. I find closeness to God when I talk with a parishioner about the ordinary joys and struggles of their lives. I find closeness to God in the ordinary calm of a bike ride. I long for ordinary because as I’ve grown in awareness of the beauty of God’s creation, I am learning there is very little that is ordinary – Even a boring image of stars.
Spiritual Exercise: Look for God in the ordinary aspects of your life today. How can we flip the narrative of demanding our faith to be based on extraordinary moments of significance? How can we find God’s presence in the simple moments, the quiet moments, and the simple gift of friendship. Pray with that today and I pray that you have an utterly ordinary day! And may you come to see how the ordinary is just as significant a part of God’s creation as the things we’ve chosen to name extraordinary. Perhaps the lesson is that nothing is ordinary – Including you and me.