Landing on the Comet


This morning, after a ten year voyage through space, the Philae lander touched down on Comet 67P, a staggering 317 million miles away.

It’s a triumph of human ingenuity.

After all, it was just a few years ago that Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis made a movie about landing on an asteroid in a desperate attempt to save the Earth, and while many people liked the movie, nobody considered it particularly real.

Maybe today it looks a little more so.

“Space” is a relatively recent term for “interstellar depths,” and ironically, it first appeared in Milton’s Paradise Lost, a deeply religious poem about Adam and Eve, the snake, and the Garden of Eden. (Here is where I also mention that John Milton, the poet, was an English Congregationalist.)

The irony of it is that, so often, we think of science and religion as being deeply opposed to one another, somehow, rather than as distinct but compatible ways of imagining and understanding Creation.

After Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from orbiting the Earth, Nikita Kruschev crowed that “Gagarin flew into space, but he didn’t see any God there.”

But surely astronomers and astronauts can mostly share the wonder of the Psalmist, who writes, “…for as I look up to the heavens thy fingers made, the moon and the stars that thou hast shaped, I ask, ‘And what is man, that thou should’st think of him? What is a mortal man, that shoud’st heed him? Yet thou hast made him little less than divine, thou hast crowned him with majesty and honor…’.” (Psalm 8: 3-5)

To me, it is how we human beings express our capacity for wonder, and also where curiosity takes us, that honor or dishonor God, far more than whether we use an explicitly religious vocabulary.

So I thank God for the ingenuity of the women and men who put the Philae on Comet 67P, and for everything we yet stand to learn about Creation.

For all the uncertainties and worries of our times, these are still such amazing days in which to be alive.   Look up at the night sky and see if you don’t agree.

See you in church

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