A composite image of the Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula, created with the Webb telescope’s NIRCam and MIRI instruments. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.

The Beauty of Astonishment

Jeanne M. Lambin
Nostalgia Monkey

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Today a reflection on astonishment and the origin of the universe.

Prelude

The beauty of astonishment is that it can unfurl itself in the most unexpected ways…the way a perfectly formed cloud bounces across an impeccably blue sky, a spider weaving its web, kid laughter, seeing a Monarch butterfly that flapped its way from Canada flitting on They are all made of the same stuff. The same source material of the universe. Quite likely, these things have been inspiring tiny moments of awe in us for millions of years. And yet, as of late, in this world of incessant clanging, it can seem increasingly hard to pay attention to them but they are all made of the same stuff.

And then there are those moments of Astonishment . . .

Astonishment with a capital “A”. Astonishment with a big, capital, gleeful, shouty A, maybe even in all caps ASTONISHMENT. Like many people, I was eagerly awaiting the images of the Webb Space Telescope, described by NASA as the “largest and most complex science observatory every built.” Due to poor planning on my part, I was in the shower during the big reveal, so to speak. So there I was, peeking out of the shower, gazing at my phone and well, for me, sometimes the level of astonishment in a given situation is so pronounced that it expels all the words from my brain except expletives, particularly one ending in “k” and prefaced by the word holy. And it seems that I should’ve dressed for the occasion, or at least put on pants. But here is a tricky thing about astonishment, it is at its most powerful when it is unexpected and even incongruous — -when it can wrest our attention from us and plant us profoundly in a moment. So there I was in my shower, watching the live stream of images from a SPACE TELESCOPE. The very same telescope that is plying the cosmos searching for “the first galaxies that formed in the early universe and peering through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems.” Meanwhile, 1.5 million kilometers away, there is me, peering out of my shower watching the James Web Space Telescope peering at fathomless space.

ASTONISHMENT

This morning, I went looking for more images and found this trailer narrated by the voice of the US astronomer and science writer, Carl Sagan (1934–1996).

In it is this beautiful quote:

“If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”

— Carl Sagan

And because I am like a little monkey pressing a space bar, wanting more, I wanted to find the whole quote and here it is:

“The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”

-– Carl Sagan

astonishment

For me (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) there is such meaning and connection in these moments of astonishment great and small. These big moments of ASTONISHMENT can give us an air gap, reorient us, help us to ponder our purpose, connect to what matters, contemplate the origin of the universe, contemplate the origin of our universe, and remind us to pause, to pay attention, to be present for those small astonishments, those the tiny moments of awe that we don’t need a telescope to see because they are right. There. Astonishment is everywhere.

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Jeanne M. Lambin
Nostalgia Monkey

I help people imagine, create, and live better stories for themselves, their communities, and the world.