Once upon a time, a generation or two ago, before we landed on the moon, Cape Canaveral was Cape Kennedy – home to NASA. It was a very exciting time – The Space Age!
Periodically, at Holy Family School, we got to swap out our spelling books for something far more fabulous. Sister Inez Patricia would wheel a little black and white TV into the classroom — 1960’s technology at its finest! Sister would fiddle with the horizontal and vertical controls – and the rabbit ears (remember those!) to get the picture just right.
Our little second-grade eyes would be glued to the screen as we listened to the countdown on the launch pad. 10,9, 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0. BLASTOFF!
Off blasted John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. Off blasted Apollo mission after Apollo mission until that incredible day when Neil Armstrong set his boots down on the surface of the moon.
One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.Neil Armstrong
And on those same little TV screens in 1966, Star Trek premiered. Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, and crew stepped aboard the Starship Enterprise, it’s mission…
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!Captain Kirk, Starship Enterprise
In Technicolor, the Star Trek crew blew our collective imaginations as they traveled through interstellar space. Galactic-ly romping around the Milky Way among millions and billions of stars.
The stars declare his glory, the vault of heaven springs
Mute witness of the Master’s hand in all created things.
And through the silence of space, their soundless music rings.T.Dudley Smith, paraphrase of Psalm 19
When was the last time you gazed up at the stars?
Sadly, stargazing is nearly impossible under the artificial light pollution of our urban skies. But maybe you have gotten a chance to steal a glance on a starry-starry night. Maybe out in the country or up in the mountains. Maybe at Shrine Mont.
On this Feast of the Trinity, I invite you to turn your eyes to the skies – heavenward. And behold the handiwork of the Holy One, the Creator of the Stars of Night. That we may discover – or possibly even recover – the experience of what it feels like “to be born from above.”
Alan Lightman, an astrophysicist, in his book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine tells the story of how he took out his little skiff onto the water in the dead of night. He writes:
I turned off my running lights…I turned off my engine. I lay down in the boat and looked up. A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world dissolved into the star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity…I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time….from the time before I was born and into the far distant future after I will die – seemed compressed to a dot…I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a great and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute.Alan Lightman, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine
Yes, Something Absolute, the Supreme Someone, we Christians call God: Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the divine first person of our Triune and singular God. The God we confess week after week in the Nicene Creed.
In Lent several years ago, I took up a rather unorthodox discipline. Rather than walking the Way of the Cross, I went in search of my Creator. I am not much of a contemplative. I don’t have the discipline to read the Daily Office. And being an extrovert, I am allergic to silent retreats. But as a bibliophile, I am all about living into the Great Commandment: to love the Lord my God, with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength — and especially with all my MIND.
So, rather than cracking open a Bible, I contemplated the Book of Creation – with more than a little help from a little trinity of astro-evangelists: Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, and Neil de Grasse Tyson.
I read Kaku’s Einstein’s Cosmos: How Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. Along with my daily prayers, I made daily online visits to Brian Greene’s World Science U – and got sixty-second – plain-English answers to my questions about the mysteries of the universe. And on the Lord’s Day, I would tune into PBS for a liturgical hour — to watch an episode of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.
I am not sure how much I actually learned science-wise. I would certainly need to study up if I had to take an exam. But this little discipline definitely deepened my awe and expanded my sense of wonder in God’s Universe. (Or is it multiverse?) A sense of wonder in all of his celestial glory.
Much as my awe and wonder were expanded all those years ago by John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Captain Kirk.
Photo Gallery: The Milky Way, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Crews of Apollo 1 (1967), Space Shuttle Challenger (1986) & Space Shuttle Columbia (2003)
And today, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we also mark Memorial Day Monday.
So, it seems to me to be both a right and a good thing to remember with gratitude those cosmic pioneers – who risked their lives to explore our solar system and the mysteries of space. For all the astronauts whose rigor and training, intelligence and dedication were given for a higher purpose. And especially for the fallen heroes of American space flight: the 1967 crew of Apollo I, the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, the 2003 explorers on the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Let’s give thanks to God for all brave and bold enough to shoot for the stars, fly to the moon, and maybe even travel to Mars. Let’s give thanks to God for the “gift of awe and wonder” in all the Creator’s works. And most especially, let us praise the Beloved Name of the First and Foremost Person of our Triune God.
“The stars declare his glory.”
Pax vobiscum, Joani
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog