Thursday, June 25
After 15 weeks of work-from-home protocols, I am sick of my dining room. The furniture, the wall colour, the framed family photos on the sideboard, I cherish them all, but I have seen enough of them. In desperation last week I borrowed a piece of original art from an Ajax artist who wasn’t able to show his work this spring. You may have noticed “Fragile Earth-Handle with Care” for the first time in my background at last Sunday’s zoom service. It was coincidental that this picture literally loomed large for me as we read John Chapter 1, verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word…,” and as Gary Gannon’s thoughtful sermon reminded me that the New Testament verse plays off of the Old Testament’s “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.“ (Genesis 1:1).
Gary also vividly recalled for us the experience of encountering the Gospel reading on a wintery Christmas Eve. Some of you may associate the Genesis reading with Christmas Eve as well, thanks to the NASA Apollo 8 moon orbit in 1968. As they viewed their first lunar sunrise and grainy footage was transmitted to earthbound listeners, astronauts Lovell, Anders and Borman read Scripture. Their view of earth (and mine in my new art piece) are variations of that singular iconic image of Earth that we have all seem countless times, that perfect blue marble that stands out for us a symbol of our shared habitat. Add to that other stunning celestial images, like “Earthrise” or the “Pillars of Creation” captured by the NASA Hubble telescope, and you get a sense of how space is a powerful indicator of God’s great glory and transcendence.
Astronaut John Glenn told reporters in 1998, just after returning from his final trip to space at age 77, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.” And there are countless accounts of astronauts and astronomers having their faith increased or sparked by their glimpses into the cosmos.
The news of the day increasingly tests our faith and seems to point out to us how fractured and divided the world is and how little we understand each other’s experiences. And yet, from that “thirty-thousand foot view” or more correctly, the 380, 000 km view of space, we can easily comprehend why the Genesis reading ends on the sixth day with this: “And God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.” Indeed, five times before that – with each day’s newly formed element – the Genesis narrative repeats, “God saw that it was good.”
When we look at Earth from space, it appears (for the most part) very good and unified and whole. Similarly, when we look at a coral reef, we don’t see individual species of fish, we see a precious, beautiful ecosystem. And there’s that cliché about not seeing the forest for the trees, but I think it’s sometime a good thing to pull back and see the whole of the forest in its cohesion and solidarity. As one of my favorite bands sings of people’s us-vs-them approach to life, “Darling, our disease is the same one as the trees/ Unaware that they’ve been living in a forest.” We are – despite our individual differences and our recurring failure to navigate those differences with grace and love – all of one community in Creation. We are made in God’s image as part of a cosmos so vast and intricate and astonishingly beautiful to the human eye (or at least the human eye aided by the wonder of satellites and rovers and deep space telescopes) that it is staggering, and we should feel bound together as humankind above all else.
The majesty of space should reinforce for us the oneness and common interests of our humanity. As Psalm 19:1 indicates “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The work of God’s hand is the created universe and us in it. I am not saying we can ignore the real and apparent differences with which we struggle as a global society. I am not saying that we should look at things with such a broad view that we don’t see human individuality in its many colours and gender expressions and socioeconomic diversity, but I do think that at the heart of everything is God’s great unswerving “it is good.” And attached to that is a call to us as faithful disciples to make it so when it’s not.
In a 2017 interview, Jim Lovell, the astronaut who flew on the Apollo 8 mission that featured the Creation reading and later on the Apollo 13 mission that almost didn’t return, remarked “In reality, you know, God has really given us a stage, … a stage on which we perform. And how that play turns out is up to us, I guess.”
Hard to sum it up more plainly and persuasively than that.
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home; by your will they were created and have their being. From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill; you made us the stewards of creation.
Pour out your Spirit upon the whole earth and make it your new creation. Gather your Church together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom, where peace and justice are revealed, that we, with all your people, of every language, race, and nation, may share the banquet you have promised; through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, all honour and glory are yours, creator of all.
Glory to you for ever and ever. Amen.
– Excerpted from Eucharistic Prayer 4, Book of Alternative Services