|The Crab Nebula, NASA,|
My day began this morning, the morning after the shooting of police officers and civilians in Dallas TX, with prayers. Prayer is not unusual for me; I am an Anglican priest. However, the sequence of what influenced my prayers today still has me pondering.
As I ate breakfast after my prayers I looked at an online image that stunned me and humbled me. It was the latest beautiful photo taken by the Hubble telescope of the Crab Nebula. I say latest because the Crab Nebula was seared on our collective subconscious in the 11th century when on the 4th of July, 1054, Chinese astronomers first recorded the supernova in what we have come to call the Crab Nebula. The Hubble photograph is enthralling in its overwhelming scale and beauty. It is also unsettling to me because of the sheer scale and power at the source of the nebula: a neutron star 1.4 times the size of our sun yet whose mass is 10 BILLION times greater.
The photo provoked within me a sense of humility and larger perspective that are not easily dismissed; how small I am; how small we are in this universe. At the same time, I was reminded of the gorgeous photo of planet earth (“Earth Rise”) I saw as a young lad taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders in 1968. Each of these images stirred something within, which caused me to remain very still and very silent…
But it wasn’t long afterwards that the same technology which brought me to wonder at the enormity of this universe, and the source of its creating and sustaining power, also brought me abruptly down to earth again: the shootings in Dallas, Texas last evening tackled me to the ground and held me down so forcibly that it felt as if someone was standing on chest.
I know that feeling will not last.
Not so for the five police officers, as well as a suspect killed last night in Dallas. Their breath has been taken from them and will not return; that is a terrible tragedy.
As I regain my breath I am confounded by recent and frequently occurring violent events which, despite lack of reporting from mainstream media, are not restricted to the United States. Why do we keep doing such things to ourselves, tackling one another to the ground, often with such horribly lethal force?
The evocative images I pondered this morning reminded me that, seen from space, one cannot see that the earth is divided into clans, races, peoples, cultures, states, or even by time itself. From a cosmic perspective this earth is one: fragile, vulnerable, and a beautiful blue home for all the life that it sustains. From space you cannot see that human vision is too often myopic and corrupted by the things that push us down: our fears, our pride, and our propensities for violence and, or, running from it. From space you cannot tell how long our collective vision will be diabolically distracted from the cosmic vision available to us. It makes me wonder how long we will remain creatures who struggle with earth bound determinism when I believe we are offered a common vision of ourselves as cosmic creatures called to rise above our histories.
I am no less tormented by such violent events than anyone else. Yet I cannot help but hope that what we learn from the dead and the injured in Dallas, and anywhere such atrocities occur, will not be bound by any of the familiar agendas which belittle us and attempt to reassert their sovereignty! Unless, of course, we allow them to do so. Gun violence, brutality, over-reaching rights claims, hate, and prejudice are all very real and alive in the exposés of human inadequacy which liter our grossly misguided media.
So I ask: must we continue to allow them to hold us down?
Can we rise from them?
Not as a means of escape, or blaming others, or overlooking them, but by yearning for, seeking and achieving a greater perspective about ourselves. A means of looking at who we are, what our better angels call us to be; and consider these things from a larger, less confining, less repetitive viewpoint. I believe we can and must rise from the burdens of these calamities and lift ourselves from the gravity of our mistakes, which take our breath away.
I believe we can learn that in the events such as the one in Dallas there is no more room for violence or running away from it, here on earth. Looking upon our island home from space can give us the gift of seeing that the earth has become too small for such behaviour. We cannot afford to deprive ourselves of our cosmic breath any longer.
My hope is that this event, which stopped my breathing for a while, will have stopped yours for a while too. That our collective horizons will expand beyond ourselves and see the billions of “others” who share this planet as no different than you and me. We are living on a wondrous island in a cosmos whose grandeur should humble and liberate us. All the while beckoning us to look beyond the things which keep us apart.
Finally, I return to prayers with the hope that we will look more clearly at what can hold us together, here on our blue green home and learn to breathe together in peace; if only because there is no more room on planet earth for anything else!