Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pale Blue Dot

Launched in 1977, the Voyager 1 space probe had given us the first close up pictures of the outer planets. By 1990, it had reached the edge of the solar system. On February 14, 1990 Voyager 1 was commanded to turn around and take one last picture, a picture of the Earth. At a distance of 3.7 billion miles, the Earth was only 1 pixel in size, a "Pale Blue Dot". Carl Sagan, the astrophyscist who lobbied NASA to take the picture, penned these words to describe the image:
On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. —Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

When the Earth is seen from this vantage point, we may recall the words of the Psalmist: When I consider the heavens...what is man that thou art mindful of him? This image, perhaps more than any other, is a picture of the place where our finite little world and the infinite meet. Even the most experienced world traveler, who has been to every corner of the globe, can only boast that they have gone from one side of the dot to the other. Of what account are our discoveries and advancements in science? Our loves, our hates, our worries, our squabbles, and even our wars seem petty when measured against the infinite cosmos. In the end, we are just travellers together on an 8000 mile wide ball of rock with only two miles of breathable atmosphere between us and oblivion.

Carl Sagan had hoped that this photograph would change our perspective and our behavior:

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
The certainty that we have a right to the life we are living, that the universe "owes us", ought to be tempered. Rather we should be aware of the obligation we owe our fellow travellers. Hopefully this image and the perspective it conveys would form our resolutions as we begin a new year to "deal more kindly with one another".

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fear Not

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' " Luke 2:10-14

The first greeting of Heaven to men announcing Christ's entry into the world was an entreaty to lay aside fear. Fear is often our first response to the unknown. Fear closes our minds to new possibilities, therefore fear had to be put aside.

Fear can certainly cause us to miss out on life. How many people and places do we avoid because of fear? How many experiences do we miss out on? How many opportunities to do good are passed up? Fear is a thief. It can rob us of a full life.

Fear can lead us to lead us to healthy responses. We get our annual physical. We change our smoke alarm batteries. We buckle our seatbelts. Wear a helmet. Prudently, we take every reasonable precaution and then carry on with life.

Fear can also lead us to do harm, great harm, to ourselves and others. Fear-induced anxiety and stress insiduously rob us of our health. How much harm, moreover how much evil has been done in response to fear? How often have people been burned to death trapped by bars on their windows? How often has a personal cache of arms been used against the owner, their families, or others? How many wars have been started because of real or perceived threats?

If anyone should lay aside fear, it should be those of us who claim the message as our own. If we believers cannot lay aside our fears, then who can? It is not only a matter of obedience but of trust. Jesus told of a man who was fully armed to protect himself and his home. Then one day, thieves broke in and overpowered him, leading Jesus to ask, "what became of the arms in which the man trusted?". The answer is obvious; at the critical moment, they were ineffective.

So how should we respond to the angels' message? If we believe, let us take the angel's message to heart. Let us set aside our fear and explore new possibilities of grace that we can extend to others. If we spread "peace, goodwill towards men" that is so desparately needed by the world, then we can expect to "overcome evil with good".