Once, in an evening discussion with my campus ministry group, we got to talking about aliens – extraterrestrial beings. Someone mentioned that they had heard that Steven Hawking, the brilliant physicist, had been against sending satellite probes into space on the grounds that anyone we came in contact with “out there” was highly likely to be dangerous to us. Better not to let them follow us home.
It occurred to me then that, as Christians, we could envision something much more positive. If God is truly God of the entire Cosmos, wouldn’t it stand to reason that God would partner with any intelligent life form in the same way in which God partners with us? Let’s assume that God loves all God’s creation. Wouldn’t God long to be in relationship with any being intelligent enough to respond?
Let’s assume the people traveling the stars have evolved not only technologically but also spiritually. Let’s assume that xenophobia has died in them as they have grown in knowledge and love of God. Is it too unreasonable, then, to imagine looking into the eyes of the totally Other and seeing a being equally loved by God as we are and willing to meet us as fellow creatures of a deity deeply invested in our welfare?
All of my group was daunted by that vision. It would certainly change our collective understanding of our place in the Universe – maybe as much as or more than the realization that the earth circles the sun. What if humankind is not the only species made in the image and likeness of God? What if we are not the only people with whom God communicates directly? Perhaps there have been other incarnations of God on other planets – other showings forth of what it means to be loved by the Author of the Universe.
This may seem to you like unproductive wool gathering. Why am I sharing it as a reflection on Colossians? Let me just say that if I were better at writing science fiction, I would definitely write that story. In science fiction we find the contemporary myths that nourish our souls. Look at Star Wars, how it has captured the imagination of generations of people.
The author of the letter to the Colossians says: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” I can imagine seeing Christ, rooted and built up, when I look into the eyes of fellow practicing Christians. Can I imagine seeing Christ, rooted and built up, when I look into alien eyes?
Eerily, this question taps my own xenophobia. It makes me wonder who I have been excluding as I have thought about belonging to God. If the entire Universe belongs to God, then God speaks in all spiritual languages. What treasure does God hold out for the person of a different faith tradition?
Thomas Merton, whose life we celebrate today, was brave enough to embrace, from his strict monastic Catholicism, the faith traditions of the Far East. He compared the mystical practices of these traditions with his own, and he made his practices accessible to lay people looking for a spiritual discipline. He was willing to find how God speaks to the Other without losing how God spoke to him.
Our treasure is our relationship with Christ. Our calling is to live our lives in him. Hopefully this makes us more open, more willing to meet and get to know the stranger, and more able to see similarities between how God speaks to that person and how God speaks to us. Perhaps in this mysterious Cosmos that belongs to God we are all siblings. Perhaps there is no one in the entire Universe that we have to fear except those who limit themselves by their own fearful outlook. And would they really be out there traveling the stars?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: The Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox