He was a name – an astronaut – a man of numbers more than anything, but he still knew the value of words and he was talking about the wonder of it, our universe, and his unique opportunity to see just a glimmer of its sparkling palette, and wasn’t it something for him to be chosen for such a thing? It was a national audience that included Hannah and Jon and myself as we drove listening to the radio.
He was an educated man, this was clear, and he led us in by describing what is largely indescribable, what more than anything needs to be experienced: the expanse, the stars, the smallness of our planet, the bewildering questions it raises.
This is where he struggled and the conversation had a pause. The astronaut wanted to say the word ‘creation,’ but the word, that word, wouldn’t come out, stuck apparently somewhere in his Adam’s apple, before he then explained to his many listeners that he, in fact, doesn’t believe in creation.
And so we listened a little longer about this life-defining flight, the galactic window-seat that this man had, how he was so moved and yet so removed, so there and yet unaware, like a fish enjoying the scenery while obtuse to the fact that it’s actually swimming in water.
He continued to wax as eloquently as he could about the thrill and deep humility he experienced by the chance that he had been given, but it sounded more flat and wobbly on the premise that his gift was somehow given without a gift-giver.
‘What?’ Jon said, from the seat behind me, looking out of his own window. “He doesn’t believe in creation?”
‘That’s right, Jon,’ I said. ‘He doesn’t believe.’
There are various reasons, of course, not to believe. One is that if you believe in creation then you believe in a Creator and then you might be accountable to someone besides yourself. Or maybe mom and dad didn’t help much. ‘I want my children to choose for themselves,’ is the way that’s all sometimes expressed by parents who, in truth, believe less in freedom than they believe in nothing.
Science sometimes gets roped into the mix as well, and wrongly so. No, science hasn’t killed God as much as some scientists have. Science has simply validated what we somehow knew all along, what we knew deep inside, that some time ago things started with a very big bang.
How could it not have? Held together in a hand of one sort or another, a hand that held it all as tight as a drum, a hand that then released it all: all the planets, all the stars, all of everything, including us, not just driving down the road in a Dodge minivan but driving down the road while flying through space at the same time.
Release it all on Day One faster or slower by one part in a hundred, thousandth million, million, and it all collapses into a fireball.
Or go to a football field. Cover every last inch with salt. One of those granules, too many to even imagine, is the magic one, the tiny granule of salt that you have to now go and find. Go find it. By yourself. The force of gravity is set that precisely, so that my Dodge minivan neither floats through the clouds nor gets pulled into the earth. Can you find that granule without help?
Astronauts know this. Seven-year-old boys don’t. They don’t have to. They just sit and look out their car window and see it all. They imagine and they wonder and then truth comes from their wonder. Now they’re out there flying in space, soaking it all in, all of creation.
‘Wow,’ they say, in thanks to their Creator.
And God listens. And God smiles. And it’s all as it was meant to be in the beginning.
It’s all good. It’s all very good.