It is an ancient practice to lay out a church building so that altars and great-windows are oriented to the east. The original meaning of the word ‘orientation’ is derived I think from the architectural fact of this preference for an east-facing on the ‘business end’ of temples and churches. There’s an obvious attempt to make the most of the morning sunlight, but there are other, more ancient associations which imply that east is the direction of divine presence and power.
Today, a higher cosmological perspective suggests (to me anyway) the need for a galactic rather than geographic orientation to divine presence and power. The photograph above of the massive starry plane of our home galaxy shot from the White Mountains of California, might be called a view through the new East Window. It makes no difference that the subject of the above photo may be lying to the west – the new ‘East Window’ always opens up in the direction of the galactic center.
I don’t think it idolatrous to view the galactic plane as a kind of focus for the localized universe presence of God. Because it’s not easy to imagine how God’s existence could mean anything at all to the galaxy if no framework for sovereignty, ministry, mercy, or justice were stretched out upon it. Moderns love to deny that God can actually be ‘out there’ somewhere – Sorry, for me this photographer captures, among the fingers of the ancient bristlecone pine, the starry path to the center of Light and Life and the eternal mansions of the God of love.
There are two primary theological orientations of ‘the eye of faith’, and this post is about only one of them – the outward, universe-oriented direction. Augustine wrote of the other orientation in a well-known soliloquy which I will not here repeat. And of course that second theological orientation tracks to an inward center rather than an outward center.
Various frightful and utterly spiritless depictions of the great outer centers (and the inner centers) have been suggested by different human minds. This is to be expected, since the measurable energies proceeding from the unseen center of our galaxy register (by definition) only a monstrous quantitative value – the instruments of choice are not made for the task of elaborating the strictly qualitative mystery of religious consciousness.
If some of our great scientific men suppose ‘a monstrous black hole’ or some other shocking thing at the center of their home galaxy, it is only their personal best in response to the quantities which dominate their analysis. I would only expect that the theory by which they explain the numbers might sometimes resemble the featureless nightmare of a homeless child.
NOTE: The photograph, “Blazing Bristlecone” is by Tom Lowe, the winner of the British National Maritime Museum’s 2010 competition for Astronomy Photograph of the Year in the Earth and Space category (the photo also gained him the award for best overall). Thanks to Deskarati for the link.
Below: The East Window of Glasgow Cathedral (for comparison)