In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus – an astronomer and mathematician who worked for the Catholic Church – developed a model of the universe that placed the sun at its center. His ideas ran contrary to what those around him believed. They could clearly see with their own eyes that the sun and other heavenly bodies moved across the sky. Surely this meant that we here on Earth were at the center of this celestial dance.
While Copernicus’s heliocentric (sun-centered) model was novel and not widely accepted, it didn’t really trouble the church at the time. He was permitted to do his work until his death at the age of 70 when he was buried in a Polish cathedral. But in the 1600s, a backlash formed against the teaching of heliocentrism. Fundamentalist Protestant Christians had developed a more rigid approach to scripture, and Catholicism then followed suit. But this wasn’t a “religion vs science” issue. Most scientists of that time also remained skeptical. The work of Copernicus, Galileo, and others heliocentrists contained serious flaws, leaving reasonable people with reasonable doubts.
This story has been on my mind lately, as our Soul Matters theme for the month of January is “Finding Our Center.” Accepting that we earthlings are not the center of the universe – that the sun is not moving around us to grant us day and night, warmth and coolness – required a major paradigm shift for scientists, theologians, and the rest of humanity. It fundamentally changed our understanding of our position in the cosmos. After all, it is through identifying the “center” of an orbital system that we are able to contextualize everything else within that system. It can be very disorienting to have the center move!
Have you ever found yourself so disoriented? What is your personal center? What feels the most certain to you and serves as a reliable point of reference for everything else in your life? And what do you do when you learn something new that changes your understanding of that personal center?
I invite you to join me in thinking about these questions this month. And as always, I would love to discuss them with you!