May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
If there’s one sunday I wish we had a projector and screen, this would be it. Cosmos sunday is an invitation to indulge in some wonderful photography courtesy of the Hubble telescope, which has now shown us remarkable images of the far reaches of our galaxy. Some of the photos are beyond spectacular, they are awe inspiring and serve to ‘put us in our place’ as it were, when it comes to the universe.
Cosmos Sunday is also the only time in Creationtide that we get to consider the earth from a completely different perspective, from the outside in. For all our scheming and dreaming, for all our praising and posing, for all our cynicism and rationality, and sometimes even nobility, we are small potatoes in the wide, wide universe. Right outside this planet, our island home, is a whole vast expanse of interstellar space of which we know very little.
Of course the Earth, or better yet, its earthlings have never really understood their place in the universe. We know that for centuries it was believed that we were at the center of it all. And why not? Why not have the sun, moon and stars revolve around us? It took scientists, explorers and students of the natural world, and even monks and mystics, to disabuse us of our own importance.
For all our human potential, there is also the flaw of pride that makes living on Earth an interesting place, to say the least. The Earth is a very particular place in the cosmos, and may have a unique importance in it, being favored by the willingness of Jesus to dwell among us and to die that we might be saved and the entire creation, cosmos included, be redeemed. But, for all we know, Earth could be the New Jersey of the universe: a small, misunderstood place, kinda stinky, but lovable once you get to know it.
Becoming aware of our place in the cosmos is to remind us of our “createdness” as well as the hubris that sometimes propels our efforts to deny our created nature and its consequences. Hubris is a character flaw often seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy. Hubris is defined as extreme pride and ambition so great that they are offensive and ultimately lead to someone’s downfall. We know this story well, because it is our own, though we call it “sin.” Have you ever thought about the impact we have on the universe? I know, it sounds crazy but we have already changed things not only in our world, but in the cosmos itself.
Here’s the thing: for a tiny planet we produce an incredible amount of space trash. Now, “Initially, the term space debris referred to the natural debris found in the Solar System: asteroids, comets, and meteoroids. However, with the 1979 beginning of the NASA Orbital Debris Program, the term also refers to the debris from the mass of defunct, artificially created objects in space, especially Earth orbit.” According to National Geographic, “Space junk has been amassing since the first human-made satellite, Sputnik 1, escaped Earth’s gravitational pull on October 4, 1957. The momentous event heralded the start of the Space Age as humans began to explore ever further away from our home world, a feat that has been repeated in more than 4,700 launches around the globe. But that also means we’ve left our mark on space in the form of trash.” space trash. Can you imagine it? If that’s not hubris, I don’t know what is.
Well, maybe there’s even a better or more pointed example of our hubris. With the 50th anniversary of the Lunar Space program, more and more details have been revealed about events on the moon. One especially perturbing fact is how much stuff has been left behind by various expeditions. Of course there are flags and other mementos, but also parts of rockets and landing arrays, equipment, tools, and so forth. That is to be expected, I suppose. The missions are planned so that much was jettisoned to make the return possible.
Unexpected, is the fact that part of the items left behind include human waste. Yup. Apparently several –96!– bags of it. Talk about offensive! In the name of science and exploration we’ve converted the moon into a dump. Think about that the next time you look at it. If you are really curious, there’s a detailed map of where these bags have been left.
So the question begs, can humanity ever overcome the hubris that it doesn’t matter what we do, what we leave behind, as long as we get there? That the means always justify the end. Can we ever be saved from our sin, the propensity to alter, pollute and perhaps even destroy creation? What would a space program look like that didn’t depend on disposable, wasteful infrastructure?
Brian Resnick, writing about the positive aspects of the waste left behind, says “Again, this is the most extreme place we’ve ever left life — possibly the most extreme place [human] life has ever been. We need to see how resilient (or not) it is in that environment…Life is a precious miracle — even the life contained in our feces. Let’s stand in awe of the fact that some of it might be alive on the moon. It would mean life seeded on a dead world, however small…” (Apollo Astronauts left their poop on the Moon. Brian Resnick. VOX.Updated Jul 12, 2019)
I wonder if that’s how we thought we’d conquer the universe. Talk about being taken down a notch. Humiliating or humbling?
Still, I’m intrigued by Resnick’s awe in the potential for life –and redemption. And it reminds me that in God’s economy, nothing is wasted, as St. Paul writes, the whole of creation waits with eager longing for the time of redemption. (Romans 8:19 ff) And we live in the hope that even our waste and pollution are to be redeemed. That is because “The cosmos is God’s home, God’s definite place, the theatre of God’s selfhood, in cooperation with God’s neighbour, and in a caring relationship with nature…”(Joseph Sittler, “Called to Unity: Redemption within Creation,” in World Council of Churches Meeting. New Delhi, India: 1961, reprinted 1985, p. 3).
Blind ambition, hubris, sinfulness doesn’t get us as far as we think. It is only when we allow ourselves to be moved out of the center, that we make true progress. It is only when we are part of that divine cooperation with God and nature that we find our true place in the universe.
Only when we believe that we are not greater than the maker of heaven and earth, can we feel the love that creates and sustains us. Think of that the next time you look at the moon.
In Jesus’ name. amen.