The frontier-pushing, St. Louis County-born American ex-patriot poet T.S. Eliot wrote in his work "Four Quartets" this:
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
I thought of this poem the other day when the European Space Agency managed to land a craft on a comet after a 10-year journey. The details, as described in the ESA press release to which I've linked you, are little short of astonishing:
* The Rosetta spacecraft was launched on March 2, 2004, and travelled 6.4 billion kilometers.
* "The landing site, named Agilkia and located on the head of the bizarre double-lobed object, was chosen just six weeks after arrival based on images and data collected at distances of 30–100 km from the comet."
* The "successful landing is undoubtedly the cherry on the icing of a 4 km-wide cake," said Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist.
So scientists sent up a small craft that traveled almost 4 billion miles (if my kilometer-to-miles math is right) over more than 10 years to hit a target the relative size of a pin head.
But what impresses me even more than the physical accomplishment is the affirmation that human minds are restless, curious and insatiable. We are built for relationship, to be sure, but also built to try to understand the world around us, which people of faith call the creation.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it has kept humanity alive and exploring the cosmos. Where to explore, as Eliot noted, does not matter. Some explore the "dark cold and empty desolition" of space. Others explore the stunningly enigmatic world of subatomic physics. Others explore the workings of the mind, the impulses of love, the formation of intelligence and faith.
We get into trouble not when our explorations turn up further mysteries but when we stop looking altogether, imagining that we know everything about whatever we're exploring. That drills our footings into our target and keeps us from further insight.
What applies to good scientific research also applies to questions of faith. We must not be afraid to explore, to ask the challenging questions, to risk finding further mystery. If we stop, whatever we're looking for may never find us, and then we'll never experience what Eliot called "a deeper communion." After all, as he wrote, "In my end is my beginning," words with deep scientific as well as religious implications.
(The image here today is an artist's impression of the Philae landing craft separating from Rosetta and descending to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is an ESA illustration you can find here.)
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A RENEWED CYCLE OF ANTI-JEWISH ACTIONS
Antisemitism is on the rise again in Europe, a German leader says at a recent conference. Not exactly news, though I'm glad there continues to be focus on this matter. The best picture of worldwide antisemitism can be found in a book edited by Alvin Rosenfeld, Resurgent Antisemitism. You can find my review of the book here.