Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
The moon shone so brightly on these last few nights. The trees tried to shield the earth from its glare, but they failed; their mighty trunks and gnarly branches cast shadows across the lawn, and newly fallen leaves glowed yellow under the glare of the brightest full moon since January 1948. November's full moon was dubbed the “Supermoon” because its revolution brought it so near to the earth that it appeared 14 per cent bigger and 30 percent brighter than normal. When photographed near the horizon at moonrise, it appeared bulky and important.
The moon is, in fact, critically important to our survival. It lights the night sky for the weary traveler, draws ocean tides to itself, and steadies the Earth on its axis. It's easy for us humans, accustomed to experiencing the lunar cycles, to take the moon for granted; but like so many of the elements in our environment, it functions with clockwork precision. In its perfection, it implies a benevolent Creator.
* * * * * * *
Not everyone recognizes the hand of God in the cosmos. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly in space, and his space flight in April 1961 took him into orbit around the earth. After Gagarin's safe return, Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev famously announced, in a speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, that “Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any god there."
But British author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis disagreed with Krushchev's unpropitious declaration. Lewis contradicted the Russian statement in his Christian Reflections 167, 171:
The Russians, I am told, report that they have not found God in outer space. On the other hand, a good many people in many different times and countries claim to have found God, or been found by God, here on earth. The conclusion some want us to draw from these data is that God does not exist. As a corollary, those who think they have met Him on earth were suffering from a delusion. But other conclusions might be drawn.
(1) We have not yet gone far enough in space. There had been ships on the Atlantic for a good time before America was discovered.
(2) God does exist but is locally confined to this planet.
(3) The Russians did find God in space without knowing it because they lacked the requisite apparatus for detecting Him.
(4) God does exist but is not an object either located in a particular part of space nor diffused, as we once thought “ether” was, throughout space.
The first two conclusions do not interest me. The sort of religion for which they could be a defense would be a religion for savages: the belief in a local deity who can be contained in a particular temple, island, or grove. That, in fact, seems to be the sort of religion about which the Russians—or some Russians, and a good many people in the West—are being irreligious. It is not in the least disquieting that no astronauts have discovered a god of that sort. The really disquieting thing would be if they had.
The third and fourth conclusions are the ones for my money….
Space travel really has nothing to do with the matter. To some, God is discoverable everywhere; to others, nowhere. Those who do not find Him on earth are unlikely to find Him in space. (Hang it all, we’re in space already; every year we go a huge circular tour in space.) But send a saint up in a spaceship and he’ll find God in space as he found God on earth. Much depends on the seeing eye.
NASA astronaut Dr. Thomas D. Jones, who flew four missions on the space shuttle Endeavour, is a Catholic who shared a dramatic story about experiencing God in space—in the Eucharist, and in Creation. In April 1994, Dr. Jones was aboard the space shuttle on a Sunday morning when the sun rose from behind the earth. One of Jones' fellow crew members was a Eucharistic minister who had brought consecrated hosts into space in a pyx; and they shared a brief communion service on the flight deck. Tom wrote of his experience:
Our silent reflection was interrupted by a sudden burst of dazzling white light. The sun had risen (as it did 16 times each day) just as we finished Communion, and now its pure radiance streamed through Endeavour's cockpit windows and bathed us in its warmth. To me, this was a beautiful sign, God's gentle touch confirming our union with Him.
We are designed to be awed in space. If our imperfect species has found such glimmers of delight in our first tentative encounter with the cosmos, then we have truly found a most caring and generous God.
* * * * * * *
By tomorrow, the Supermoon will already be smaller; and the next time a full moon will be so near to Earth will be November 25, 2038. Take time to look upward—but do it not as Nikita Krushchev, with eyes blinded to the miracles abounding in the heavens. Like C.S. Lewis and Tom Jones, look up in faith, like the psalmist who wrote in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”