Friday, February 6, 2009

The Galaxies of Nebraska

Last night I was flying back to Omaha from a meeting in Berkeley, California. Strangely, the plane would hit a little bit of turbulence any time I opened my book, so I decided that looking out the window would be the better way to spend the flight. For the record, I'm not the biggest fan of flying. 

It's been almost a year since I've flown. Normally I'd fly home for Christmas break in college, and inevitably some part of the flight would be at night. Those flights were kind of pretty; the ground far, far below us would be inky black, unbroken save for a few random lights here and there. That is, unless the moon were full; then the moonlight would be reflected off of the snowy peaks and valleys of Idaho or Washington. Those were always beautiful flights. Seeing nature from high above, pristine and safe from human development, reminded me of the sheer grandeur and immensity of God's creation right in our own little world. 

Last night, though, I had expected yet more inky darkness, but that was not what I saw. I would see no mountains but towns all lit up. At first I was wondering what people below were doing that night while we were flying overhead. Then as we passed over more and more towns, I noticed how these little patches were like galaxies in the darkness. Little patches of light spaced far apart and connected by nearly invisible roads. 

Two different feelings welled up in me. On the one hand, I was fascinated to see these little towns, these little galaxies. Who doesn't feel a sense of awe and majesty in looking at pictures from space? To see bright colors surrouned by darkness, to know how vast and beautiful all creation is? I was amazed to see little clusters of people. I wondered what the names of each little town were. 

On the other hand, I wondered what it meant that these little galaxies were spread out like that. There wasn't a large stretch of darkness, a place where we have not extended our reach, a realm that lies under our stewardship but not our dominion. Real galaxies remind us how much we will never know, how many places that will never be explored, colonized and conquered by us. 

Is this the reason why we seem to have lost our sense of wonder? On the hand, there is a real sense of wonder at what we, the human animal, can accomplish, but then have we lost our sense of wonder for everything else?

Late at night when I was younger I would sometimes take a walk in our pasture and look up at the night sky. I would see the Milky Way, constellations I knew and constellations I didn't. Sometimes I would even be graced by a falling star. On those nights, I would be scared and awed by it all; the sheer size of all creation is beautiful and amazing, but then I would be scared by how small and fragile we really are. 

That feeling of limitation and fear, I think, is not wholly unwelcome. That reminder of just Whose creation this is can bring us to the knowledge of how much we rely on God to sustain us. 

I really loved seeing those little galaxies in the night, but I missed the inky blackness, too. 

1 comment:

Country Parson said...

Long ago and in a galaxy far away, when I spent many nighttime hours flying over the Northern Great Plains, I had the same thought and even wrote a bad poem about it.