The Christmas story recounts three wise men journeying through the desert, guided by the mysterious appearance of a distant star. This echoes the sense of awe that has been part of the human experience from the beginning. Staring up at the night sky, our ancestors ceaselessly pondered the nature of the heavens, and who or what controlled the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Science and spirituality are often engaged in heated opposition, but it's important to recognize that both paths of inquiry were spawned from the same common core -- awe and wonder. A deep-seated experience of connection and "oneness" continues to lie at the heart of both spiritual and scientific pursuits. Whether it's quantum entanglement at the particle physics level, "empathetic" mirror neurons at the physiological level, or the mind/matter influences of epigenetic processes, science increasingly demonstrates that the universe is amazingly and mysteriously interconnected, with the potential for undreamed of possibilities.
In this holiday season Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, and other religious and spiritual traditions honor their own sacred winter and solstice rituals of reflection and renewal. Meanwhile, those with a strictly scientific sensibility can celebrate an equally profound connection with the miraculous. Wonders are woven into every aspect of the universe. If not for the almost perfect settings and configurations of our physical laws and constants, matter and life as we know it could not exist. We are each a one-in-64-trillion unique combination of chromosomal variation, and we are made up of over 37 trillion cells, interconnected and working together in a staggering web of cooperative complexity. Our brains contain over 86 billion neurons producing the almost indescribable experience of consciousness and self-awareness. We are orbiting through space at 67,000 mph around a nuclear-reactor star, aboard a life-sustaining "spaceship earth" -- and this is just one of hundreds of billions of such solar systems in our own galaxy, not to mention untold galaxies beyond, and possible multiverses beyond that. All of these scientific facts and theories can be catalysts for feelings of profound connection and contemplation.
But with global strife and political rancor predominating the news, it's easy to overlook the fact that we are surrounded by the mysterious and the awe inspiring. At any given moment, myriad acts of kindness, care, and service are taking place. When Ismini Svensson's father died of a heart attack, shortly before her wedding, she and her fiancé profoundly shifted their priorities. To honor her father's legacy of service, the couple founded StayUNITED -- a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism and acts of kindness, while using social media to build networks of cooperation and altruism.
In whatever ways you celebrate the awe and wonder of existence during this Holiday season, we should each strive to recognize and acknowledge the miracles taking place around us -- and to be the miracle for those who hunger, and who are in need.
Steven and Michael Meloan are authors of The Shroud, a science-adventure novel exploring the spiritual impulse, tribalism and its manifestations in human behavior, and the intersection between science and spirituality:
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