Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cassini and Faith

Yesterday, the first of the raw pictures came back from the Cassini spacecraft, on its long trek to the gas giants in the outer reaches of our solar system.  Many were striking, but the one that got me was the one to the right.  There, in the deep blackness of space, a bright point of light, a featureless blue-white sparkle in the heavens.  Below it, a smaller, slightly dimmer speck.

Earth and the moon, those two dots are.  Here we are, seeing ourselves from a distance that renders all of human life and history to its actual place in the universe.  We're teeny tiny, so infinitesimal as to be just a speck in the vastness.

This is not a new observation, of course.  It was made wonderfully by Carl Sagan, years ago, as images of a distant earth first reached us.  That Pale Blue Dot is so precious, yet so ephemeral.  

What struck me in seeing those Cassini images was, unsurprisingly, the faith spin on all of that.  Unless a faith can take the reality of our place in the vastness into itself, it just isn't real.  So much of the way human beings have come to understand our faith casts all of existence in earthbound terms.  We often proclaim a great and cosmic struggle, and yet the scale and scope of that struggle never leave the bounds of the speck we inhabit.

If the most fevered yearnings of John of Patmos came true, and Revelation were fulfilled tomorrow, and the seas ran with blood and there were horsemen and beasts rose from the sea in a way that would give Guillermo del Toro goosebumps...so what?

The view from Cassini would show that same binary planetary system.  Maybe the Earth would have a slightly redder hue.  

But the rest of the universe would trundle along oblivious. To be meaningful in an existence of this scale, faith has to be both larger and more intimate.

Larger, in that we have to understand all of our sacred stories in a radically different way than our forebears.  They need to speak into the reality of our place in a Creation that is more wondrous and humbling that we ever imagined.

More intimate, in that we need to see the defining existential purpose of faith...which gives meaning and purpose on a human scale.  What matters is our capacity to find that which gives life integrity and direction, and there, an open, gracious faith does so.

If we can do these things, our faith still has purchase, even if all we yet are remains on that tiny bright speck.

The slightly bigger one, that is. 

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