Monday, October 22, 2012

To Infinity and Beyond (part 2): We Came in Peace

“When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place— What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?” -Psalm 8:4-5

In the first post, I mentioned the feats of unmanned exploration like Voyager, but I think it is important to look at manned missions as well. When the first men landed on the moon, they planted an American flag on the lunar surface. But the triumph was beyond American. The plaque they left read: “We came in peace for all mankind.” And a silicon chip held messages of goodwill from 73 countries. The feat was too momentous to let one group within an arbitrary border claim. 

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide
Beyond earth, humanity stands united against the vast unknown of space. Science fiction commonly has the assumption that by the time we have the technology to travel great distances from home, we’ll have overcome wars and poverty and national borders. We will present ourselves as one people. Whether overcoming our conflicts will unite us as one or uniting as one will make us overcome our conflicts, I’m not sure. Does defeating sin reunite us with God, or does reunion with God defeat sin?  In either case, there is the promise that someday we can transcend greed and bigotry, that in the end, we will be worthy of inheriting the stars. 

I read that President Nixon had the plaque changed to the past tense (“We come in peace…” to “We came in peace…”). I like the past tense better. It accounts for that one moment in history. In July 1969, we did come in peace. Should we diverge from peaceful endeavors or should we cease to exist, there is a record to our memory telling the future that we came in peace. It’s a cry that can be heard when we no longer have voices.

I’ve heard that astronauts have powerful reactions to floating above the earth, watching all of humanity condensed into a blue dot. The crew of Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve 1968; they took turned reading from Genesis:

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth..."

When the Eagle landed on the moon, Buzz Aldrin partook in communion. His Presbyterian church back home had prepared a small communion kit with bread and wine. When in the crucible of an epochal event for all humanity, these men could only express themselves through religion.

When we face glimpses of infinity, our observations and words are meaninglessly small. We rely on well-worn verses and rituals, because they connect us to the bigger picture. The moment is no longer singular, but part of the story, the only story. We become a part of the whole, in sync with those before and those after who have also floated in the black and been witness to the paradoxical nature of humanity: insignificant and important. 

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