Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
—Robert Frost

A few weeks ago I watched a video of the planet Jupiter from the Pic du Midi observatory in France. The clarity of the film and the sheer beauty of the planet left me feeling awestruck, small, humble, and proud of my species all at the same time.

We will probably never know all the secrets of Jupiter. It is too far away, and its environment is too hostile for us to explore it directly. We can only, as Frost put it, dance in a ring and suppose. But in the process we have learned much and seen much that we would have missed if we had not joined the dance.

Frost’s couplet reminds us that we are human and limited—but we also try to get beyond our limitations. Our search for truth, beauty, and meaning, however, is not just a struggle. It is also a dance.

Dance requires discipline and concentration. It is never perfect. But in the search for perfection, the dancer finds great beauty, a kind of truth, and deep meaning—and in the end, great joy for dancer and audience.

So it is with all of us. We may never penetrate the Secret, but our effort to do so—our science, our philosophy, our religious and moral traditions—is what makes us fully human and reveals to us worlds we had not expected to find. It gives us hope, even in the most discouraging times.