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Galileo Comes to Spiritual Direction

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Galileo Comes to Spiritual Direction

Awe as the Mental Experience of God


Spiritual Director (SD): Come in Signore Galilei. I am honored that you would wish to visit with me.

Galileo Galilei (G): Thank you for your discretion, seeing me at this odd hour of the night and risking your own safety by seeing someone who is under house arrest. I am grateful.

SD: We all do what we must to make our way toward meaning in our lives and my way is to be with seekers like you, just as your way is studying the movements of the stars. May I call you by your first name Galileo, which after all this is what history will end up calling you?

G: Yes, of course.

SD. Thank you, Galileo, Using your given name is quite lovely as it suggests an intimacy for many generations to come with you and your ideas which are now deemed heretical.

G: Galileo may be what history will call me, who knows? But everyone calls me Galileo now, even when they are defaming me behind my back.

SD: I know something of your conflict with the church—that from your study of gravity and astronomy you ascertained that the earth circles the sun. The Inquisition considers such a belief to conflict with church orthodoxy and tried you for heresy.

G: Yes, they found my view “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” When I defended my views, the church took it as an attack on the Pope and so I was in even more hot water. But I am not here to commiserate with you about the myopic view of the church, the ambiguity of its standard of orthodoxy—“the sense of holy scriptures”—which are in themselves often nonsensical or the church’s penchant for operating upon the absurd notion that it can control what people think. [shakes his head grievously]

SD: Yes, do tell me what brings you to spiritual direction?

G: I am here because as later history will perhaps describe me, I am the point of the spear of a new level of consciousness that will emerge among humankind called the enlightenment perspective. I rejoice in this perspective because it has given me the chance to explore and develop the scientific method, to begin to understand gravity and most joyfully to make observational discoveries about our galaxy.

SD: Yes, I am aware of your use of the telescope to confirm the phases of Venus, finding four moons of Jupiter, observing Saturn, analyzing spots on the sun and of course proving scientifically that the earth circles the sun. You must find this work exhilarating.

G: Indeed, I have. But this gets to the nub of my issue. On the one hand, I have felt my discoveries about the nature of the universe have brought me ever closer to the mystery and wonder of creation and the beneficence of the Creator; and on the other, have left me feeling empty and deprived of a feeling of intimacy with God, which so many saints describe. I have been particularly touched by the image of intimacy, even with all its darkness, experienced by John of the Cross who died so recently in 1591. Is it too much to ask? I am deeply religious, and I want more.