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Dowd: Pondering the meaning of Webb’s cosmic revelations

In the beginning, you were told, God created the heavens and the earth. And he looked at it and thought it was good.

You now live in an age where mankind can look back in time almost to the origin of creation. The beginning is almost in focus – the beginning – captured in countless clusters of light. And light is divided from darkness.

The James Webb Space Telescope is now only a million miles from Earth, orbiting your star, but this month it sent back stunning images that flashed back from the first billion years.

Telescopes allow you to spy vast galaxies, spiral cosmic systems of unimaginable size, filled with stars and countless worlds, perhaps even your own stars and your own planets.

You wonder if some of these star systems could support life or even living organisms as we understand them. Go further, and you wonder if there souls can love each other, if there parents love their children too?

Indeed: among the lights of the sky is love or even reason? What meaning can be derived from these endless dots of light on a distant starry night?

You live in a world scarred by hatred and war, slanderous rhetoric and political betrayal, and the ever-present perversion of greed. Some days you just feel depressed.

Yet humanity is capable of extraordinary achievements. Long Islanders helped land men on the moon half a century ago. Your country is still capable of greatness; NASA built this time machine for you. Today, you even interact across time and space on Earth in an instant, see each other’s faces from the ocean.

Yours is a world where some give nothing of themselves while others give everything so that someone can live. In the thinking of this universe, our differences are so tiny, so small that we have no choice but to overcome them eventually.

From the James Webb Space Telescope, an image of Stefan’s quintet – five galaxies, four of which are interacting. These colliding galaxies are pulling and stretching each other in a gravitational dance. Courtesy of NASA

You see an image focused on the galaxy cluster. You live in a galaxy, a solar system, on a tiny planet in this cold, forbidding universe. You contemplate the light-polluted sky over Long Island with awe and wonder.

The images tell a story 4 billion light years away. You do the math at 4 billion light years and your calculator proves useless. It doesn’t really count, a meaningless zero, a distance beyond comprehension. You can also count the rocks on Long Island’s North Shore.

And NASA says that light from that distant place was sent here at the same time that the Sun and Earth formed from distant cosmic dust.

This is what the ancient writers of Genesis struggled so noble to convey. Science and faith collide now and 13 billion years ago. And the past – your past – is here today, facing you. And you must ask, are you ready?

Allow yourself to be overwhelmed. You are going to understand the incomprehensible. You live in such a time, both terrible and wonderful.

You were told as a child that God saw His creation and thought it was good.

But what is it? Are you about to find out? Are you ready for the answer when it comes?

And this begs another question: If you could go back in time, even to a distant past yesterday, what would you do?

You won’t be—not for a minute—because that would change what you are now: who you are and who you love. You can learn from the past, but you can only change the here and now, today and tomorrow.

You can look back, but don’t go back.

The answer is as clear as this star: it’s a new beginning.

Joe Dowd is editor and associate publisher of Long Island Business News. His award-winning columns appear regularly.

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