As I was sitting down to write this reflection, I was distracted by the live stream of NASA putting its Perseverance rover on Mars. I’ll tell you, it took me back.
I had just graduated from high school when the first human walked on the moon. I remember being glued to the television that day as we watched an actual human being set foot on a chunk of ground that was not on our planet. The NASA control room in that era was very similar to the one just live streamed today. There were the same tense scientists — though generally those past era ones were male and white — with the same quietly anxious faces, the same jubilation at the touchdown of the module, and the same wonder as the first image from their rover appeared on the screen.
The Apollo 11 astronauts stayed on the moon a total of 21 hours, and then they came home and were quarantined for 21 days. I watched the moment of their reentry into the earth’s atmosphere and then their splashdown, but didn’t pay much attention to the rest of their journey. I was occupied by things like working my summer job and getting set to go to college in the fall.
The Perseverance will be sending lots of high resolution images as it makes its way through the landscape of Mars. I look forward to sitting in front of my computer and viewing them. These photos come to us from millions of miles away, from a place governed by a different atmosphere, with two moons, a different gravitational pull, and a slightly longer day.
In Lent we go with Jesus into the wilderness. We find opportunities to step outside our day to day existence and to listen for God in solitude. Watching Perseverance’s images may give me the opportunity to move beyond the pressures and concerns of my small life as I contemplate a whole world in which humanity is but a visitor.
Looking back on my struggles, ambitions, and spiritual questions from the perspective of Mars, what might I see? This is truly taking the long view. My whole planet is but a speck of light in the Martian sky. And I am one of billions of humans living out their lives on this small, impossibly distant, blue sphere in space.
Perhaps Perseverance will help me to lay aside some of the things that cause me grief so that I stretch into God’s presence. The Creator God’s love for me, for the particular human being that I am, is one of the most profound paradoxes I know. It is impossible to wrap my mind around it — even more impossible than wrapping my head around Mars.
But my heart opens into the awareness of God’s love easily and joyfully. God is always right here. The vastness of the universe shakes me loose from my sense of importance, but never from this awareness that God is always present, nearer than my next heartbeat and the breath that fills my lungs.
What then? The wilderness calls. May I remember to give myself over to it, listen and learn.