the Empathy List #84: Look to the Sky
Searching for God and meteorites.
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Hello friend, Liz here.
Tuesday morning, as I drove home from dropping my kids at their public elementary school, the sky caught my attention: there, in the center of my windshield, barely the size of a fingernail, I saw a bright white streak of cloud, pointing in a straight line to the ground.
This was no puff of airplane exhaust.
Something had left the stratosphere and was headed toward dirt.
I decided to follow the visitor as far as I could. I had grand ideas of parking right beneath the falling object so I could watch its descent, and then hunting around for its landing place—a souvenir of heaven. So as I wound through neighborhoods of condos and passed grocery chains, the trail of smoke held my gaze.
I thought of the learned men from Africa who sought the immaculately conceived infant and the star that had led them north. The Africans must have traversed both jungle and dunes on camelback to visit the toddler. And all the time, they locked their eyes on the expanse above them.
The sky in my part of the world is a yogi stretching beyond belief: all blue and wide angle and encompassing. In the northeast where I grew up—really, anywhere near the coasts—the sky shrinks. As you lose altitude, fog, clouds, skyscrapers and oaks all contribute to a reduced sightline.
But here in the western United States—and likewise on those desert plateaus crossed by the wise men on the way to the Christ child—the sky has no single horizon.
If you enjoy my email, would you forward it to a friend?
Following this cloud in my car reminded me of this fact: the horizon plays tricks. The object in the sky which appears only a football field’s distance from you, might be, in reality, miles from where you stand.
As I drove on, I watched the remnant of heavenly body shrink, presumably breaking apart in the heat of its descent. The cloud was losing height and as it did, it became harder to see.
I found myself second-guessing: is that a cloud or a smudge on the glass? Was it only ever a trick of light? Should I pull out my phone for a photo to remember it by?
But almost as soon as I realized it was disappearing, then I couldn’t find it anymore. Poof, the trail in the sky had dissipated without any evidence of having arrived in the first place.
I turned my car around and drove to the top of a nearby hill, in hopes of locating my cloud once again (maybe it had been blocked by a tree?). This hill belonged to the nearby hospital, who had plans to expand their operations to this field. Heavy machinery had tracked along the dirt, bending tumbleweeds in its wake, and coming dangerously close to a rundown wooden gazebo that I’d become attached to on my drives between school and home.
I leaned across the steering wheel. I searched the light blue sky. But I could not find the cloud that I’d been following.
Had this been a meteorite at all? And had it ended its journey across galaxies here?
Probably not. Probably the cloud was no more than the remains of a broken satellite—or some other bit of space trash—reentering orbit in a transcendent whoops. Probably I hadn’t witnessed a transcendent visitor at all.
But maybe I had. While our species is awfully good (terrible?) at trashing the beauty offered to us, we can also perform the opposite feat.
We are, after all, the species who both conceived of and built the Hubble telescope.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest and scientist, has been quoted as saying, “The world has little by little caught fire in my sight until, aflame all around me, it has become almost luminous from within… By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates and moulds us.” [sic]
He’s putting Psalm 19 in his own words: “The heavens declare the glory of God… They have no speech, they use no words… yet their voice goes out into all the earth.”
Both the psalmist and Teilhard de Chardin are saying the same thing: that you can catch a glimpse of God driving home from your kid’s elementary school in your mid-size SUV, if only you’ll stop to stare. ;-)
Glory everywhere, for the taking. Do you see it, too, my friend?
Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
P.S. More deconstruction stories coming in June. (I hope.)
P.P.S. Many thanks to the Lectio 365 writers for first pairing the Teilhard de Chardin quote and Psalm 19 together!
A deep dive into the addictive, embittering and strange culture of Youtube creators. (Plus I enjoyed a closer look at Gen-Z, for whom I have more and more big feels… because I cannot IMAGINE being a teen right now in this world. :-PPPPP)
“Vloggers tend to be keenly, almost freakishly attuned to the in-depth analytics YouTube provides for them. ‘It is brilliant and terrifying how much information YouTube gives you about your content and your audience,’ explains Howell. ‘If you’re making a video from the heart, truly expressing yourself … you are greeted with a wall of red lines saying “Sorry, nobody likes this, sweetie.”’”
Amid so much scandal, should churches include Hillsong Church’s music in their worship services? This article on musicology considers how to engage with art when artists go bad.
Is space tourism finally here for us regular people? (Follow up question: when will it not cost more than a house to vacation in orbit?)
“Less than a year after Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson kicked off a commercial space race by blasting into the upper atmosphere within weeks of each other last summer, the global space tourism market is skyrocketing, with dozens of companies now offering reservations for everything from zero-pressure balloon trips to astronaut boot camps and simulated zero-gravity flights. But don’t don your spacesuit just yet.”
A nuanced discussion about abortion is hard to find. Somehow, the Atlantic has managed it, asking readers to write in their answer to the question, what are your views on abortion? Read their curated answers.
“Harold writes that ‘abortion is a moral evil and an affront to the dignity of the person, much as the death penalty, refusing to grant asylum to migrants, human contributions to climate change, failure to act reasonably during a pandemic, and excessive capitalistic greed deprive individuals of their intrinsic dignity or in many cases their lives. I believe in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.’ However, he continues, ‘repealing Roe does little in terms of actually addressing the issue at hand.’”
What is the “metaverse,” exactly?
“To hear tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg or Satya Nadella talk about it, the metaverse is the future of the internet. Or it's a video game. Or maybe it's a deeply uncomfortable, worse version of Zoom? It's hard to say.”
Just for fun…
Make Dutch Babies with Youtube chef, Chef John. He’s a delight, and you’ll have an excuse to have friends over for brunch. ;-)
(Thanks to Gawker for pointing me toward Chef John!)