Tuesday, September 13, 2005

When the Moon became a place

When I was a child I delighted in the wonder of the night-time sky when distant stars and the full moon were visible. I would think about what I had learned in school about the moon being an enormous object orbiting around the earth, which itself was an object orbiting around the Sun, which itself was moving along a path that no one had yet been able to describe.

The analogies that were used to help me appreciate the relative sizes of the Earth, Moon, and Sun and the distances between them left me with a sense of awe at the size of the whole Universe and of the power of God who had created it.

walking on the moonI remember the day in 1969 when the television screen showed astronauts stepping out of their spacecraft and walking on the Moon's surface. I would sit inside in front of the TV and watch the drama unfold in amazement, and then for weeks afterward I would step outside of the house and find the moon either in the day or night sky, and remind myself that what I had seen on television had happened up there on that distant object. The experience stretched my comprehension of my place in the universe.

That experience would stretch language itself. We talked about "landing" on the moon, the lunar "landscape", or people finding their way on lunar "terrain", and at the back of my mind was the dim awareness that we were using words that previously had rather conventional meanings in utterly new ways; we were searching for the right analogies to describe a new reality. What did it mean to talk about a terrain that was not on Terra? What did it mean to "land" on a thing that was neither earthly "land" nor even a platform floating on an earthly sea?

walking on the moonThe scenes of astronauts walking on the moon changed the way I pictured the moon. It was transformed in my mind from an object to a place where a human being could walk, or stand still and observe the earth, a place where the the inner ear and the illusion of fixedness could assist the earth-learned skills of orienting oneself in one's environment, but a place where "up" and "down" were no longer dictated by the imaginary vectors pointing to the center of the earth.

I'm looking forward to the world-wide release on September 23, 2005 of "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D", and to being able to see it at the local Cinemark IMAX theater in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum. I know that part of the movie will be CGI renderings of what the scenes must have been like, not actual film taken with an IMAX camera. But I look forward to an experience that will remind me of how my mind was stretched in 1969, and will refresh the ways I think of my place in the universe when, outside the theater, I look up and see the moon.

The stories of the twelve human beings who have walked on the moon are for me not so much stories of human achievement, as they are stories of humans who gained for all of us a better perspective on how vast the universe really is, and how small a part of it we really are.
"I often think of the heavens your hands have made and of the moon and stars you put in place. Then I ask, 'Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?' You have made us a little lower than you yourself, and you have crowned us with glory and honor."
- Psalm 8:3-5, Contemporary English Version, (c) 1995 American Bible Society.

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