Ever since we were young children, we’ve been looking up at the night sky, perhaps saying silently or calling out, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” or “the stars at night are big and bright…” That attraction, that wonder, that allurement led us to journey recently to Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California.
How did the object of our trip, Mount Wilson Observatory, come into existence? It was the dream of George Ellery Hale, who began the project in 1904. Earlier in the day we had been driving up the winding, curving, paved road. We marveled at what the early construction crews had to accomplish. They carved out and built a dirt road, narrow and winding upward with predominately mule-driven wagons as transport for building materials, tools, scientific equipment, food supplies, and the human labor required. It was a daunting task! These wagons needed to be guided by sure-footed and courageous men as the mule train progressed up this precarious slope, with long dangerous drops over the sides to the canyons below.
Another feature of this area is that there is also an inversion layer (dense marine fog) that traps the smog over Los Angeles. Therefore Mount Wilson has naturally steadier air, which makes it an ideal place for astronomical research. We ourselves drove up and through the marine layer until we reached the point where the sun was shining brightly and the sky was a clear vivid blue! The scenery immediately around us had also changed from the Yucca cactus and chaparral style to pine trees of several varieties which flourished on the upper slopes.
The “We” of this journey were six Maryknoll Sisters and Sister Maureen’s nephew, Tim Gunning. We came already somewhat formed in global hearts and eyes through our mission lives and experiences: Pat Conroy and Chris Ortis in Korea and Nepal; Joan Crevcoure in Hawaii and the Marshall Islands; Maureen Gunning in the Los Angeles Japanese Mission and Taiwan; Mary Lou Higa in Sri Lanka and Hong Kong; Jo Lucker in Africa and El Salvador; Tim Gunning in Illinois and California. However, now, standing on the top of Mount Wilson, looking over our world from the very spot where astronomer Edwin Hubble had made the astounding discovery in the 1920’s that our Universe was not static but was expanding, that our Earth-home in the Milky Way was only one of many galaxies, left us in “awe-filled wonder.” (At right is a photo we took of the view from Mount Wilson.)
Sometime later, Einstein, who had developed the Law of Relativity, accepted the invitation to come to the Mount Wilson Observatory and see, with his own eyes, how the mathematical calculations he had laboriously worked on (and later hedged) were indeed true! The 100-inch telescope, the world’s largest from 1917 to 1949, was subsequently named the Hubble Telescope in honor of Edwin Hubble.
It was both humbling and glorious to realize that right here, in this place, was the scientific foundation of a new Cosmology and so a new Universe Story. As this awareness resonated deeply within us, we felt that this was holy ground and that we were here, now, to live and love in this new developing consciousness, this intimate relationship with all of Creation centered in our God Who Is Love.
In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “We are the universe become conscious of itself.”
— Sister Josephine Lucker, MM