Look at up the sky. Look up at the night sky. And then lose yourself, for just a moment, in the wonder and the miracle that is the universe. Look for comet NEOWISE.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them? -- Psalm 8:3
Look at up the sky. Look up at the night sky. And then lose yourself, for just a moment, in the wonder and the miracle that is the universe.
Look for comet NEOWISE.
No, its not the most romantic nor roll off the tongue kind of name for such an amazing celestial object. NEOWISE is named for the NASA spacecraft and mission that discovered the comet March 27: Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. This speeding heavenly object that is dropping by to visit planet Earth, is one of only a handful of comets that will be viewable by the naked eye this century.
I know I need something like NEOWISE to give me perspective on the times we are living in, a break from the intensity of the news cycle, and a chance to just pause and breathe and remember how wonderfully mysterious and mystical Creation and all that is within it, truly is. Ive read enough and then some about COVID and the roiling of Americas social fabric and the ugly general election right around the corner and the economy and so on and so on and so on.
All important, certainly and yet, even in the midst of these intense days, NEOWISE teaches us that we little humans living on this little blue ball hurtling through space in an unfathomably huge universe we are just one of so many worlds in the heavens. Scientists report that there are more than 10 septillion planets in our observable universe, and thats only counting planets that are orbiting stars.
The gift of something like NEOWISE reminds us of the relative short stay of humankind in the universe and of each of us on this earth. Our lives matter, absolutely, but we are also just one generation among a vast parade of life, human and otherwise. NEOWISE is actually a remnant from when the universe was created and came into being, which means it is upwards of 13.77 billion years old. It wont return to our solar system again for 6,800 years. And so, me complaining about turning 60 next year: I might want to rethink that!
NEOWISE also reminds us of just how awe-inspiring Creation can be: from comets moving at 40 miles per second or 144,000 miles per hour, to viruses that seem to come out of nowhere, to a species like homo sapiens, who have found some way to adapt and thrive in our environment. A people who for tens of thousands of years have faced into wars and pandemics and revolutions and somehow come through on the other side of that history, sometimes come through the worst, even better than before.
So, heres the way to see NEOWISE. Pick a night very soon when the sky is clear. Find a part of your community relatively dark and free of light pollution: a hill, a field, a dark corner to camp out in, any time after dark. Bring a telescope or a pair of binoculars. Look towards the northeast sky and search out the Big Dipper. Then look just below that constellation and NEOWISE should be visible.
Then look up at the sky. Look up at the night sky. And watch what may be the greatest show both on earth and off earth. Remind yourself that you are a part of the universe, that you are meant to be here, that you have been made by the same power that hurled NEOWISE racing across the cosmos. Let all the anxiety and worries of the day recede. Remember that folks were here before you and that folks will follow you too, and so our job while on terra firma is to do our best and maybe even leave this planet a little better than when we found it.
As Max Ehrman, the author of the poem Desiderata once wrote, Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
It is a beautiful world and universe. Thanks, NEOWISE, for reminding us of this eternal truth.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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