Becoming Human: A Lesson From Galileo

fairyland-canyon-1632749_1920 (2)When we lived in Texas, it didn’t take long for me to geek out on all things NASA. It hadn’t occurred to me when we said we’d move to Houston that we were heading to the land of Apollo 13 fame. I had loved that movie when it came out and forgot that when Tom Hanks said, “Houston, we have a problem,” he quite literally meant Houston, Texas – the city we were relocating too.

Outside of that movie I hadn’t really thought about space much until I joined the staff at Habitat for Humanity in Dickinson and learned that many in the space community there were involved with our work over the years. I still think its a safe bet to say that we were likely the only non profit in the country to have not just one, but TWO “interplanetary geologists” on our board of directors. To this day I have no idea what an interplanetary geologist actually does but it sure sounds cool. I remember talking to one of them at a fundraising event and noting that I’d surely never used the term “cosmic dust” in a sentence before.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized about space exploration: Learning about the  vastness of the universe makes you feel incredibly small. Breathtakingly small. The very consideration of it can be anxiety provoking for someone like myself who likes to feel in control. And yet, I’m tempted to think that feeling small might not be such a bad thing in the end.

At some point during our time in Texas, Andy organized a date to the Brazos Bend state park observatory about an hour west of Galveston. Outside of Houston’s light pollution, you can take a turn behind two or three high powered telescopes – each about the size of a small bus – and check out constellations that we’re unable to see with our naked eyes. The most powerful telescope there revealed a set of stars that were 170,000 light years away. Which might not mean that much until you realize that this is the effect of someone turning a lamp on and then waiting 170,000 years for someone on earth to see it flicker on. Thus anyone looking into the telescope that night was looking at light that started shining that long ago too.

I know. I CANNOT.

At some point on the evening of our date, one of the observatory volunteers, A.K.A. “adorable super space nerd,” was using his laser pointer to point out various galaxies and constellations and he made a comment about how Galileo had used some combination of these constellations to determine that the earth revolved around the sun as opposed to the sun revolving around the earth – something that people in his time had held as “the sky is blue truth” for centuries.

“And this proclamation,” super space nerd reminded us, “Is what got Galileo excommunicated from the Catholic Church and put on house arrest.”

To which I, no offense intended to Galileo’s clear misfortune, essentially burst out laughing.

Because this is what we humans do.

All. the. time. 

For years upon years we build our lives, families, companies or churches around all sorts of theories that revolve around our ability to control some aspect of them. This could be building a company that fulfills a corporate mission on one hand but more than anything ensures my continued leadership of it. Or building a family that does great things in and for the world but more than anything reflects my unmatched parenting capabilities for all to see. Or building a life so harried that only a robot would choose it but that more than anything ensures that in my retirement I can really live the good life. Nevermind that none of these things are guaranteed to us. Ever.

When these dreams fall apart, because so often they do…we do one of two things: We either fall with it and see where the wind takes us next (this is rare) or we rush in and do any manner of ridiculous things to protect THE THING we hold most dear with all the might we can muster. In the halls of power at the Vatican this meant banishing a brilliant life so power could be maintained. Because if the earth revolves around the sun then the very heavens are not about us anymore.

and this cannot be so…

or can it? 

For me, becoming human again has involved getting to the understanding that my life is not primarily about me and my story. Which is funny, I realize, as I’m writing a blog about how we might live better stories. Its not that our desires and our personal make-up don’t come into play. They just simply don’t take the place of the sun.

I think acknowledging that we’re a part of a much bigger story and that perhaps we’ve tried to build a life in our own power could be the first step towards healing and wholeness. It could also be the thing that lets us live freely in relationship to the very source of our human power: God himself.

This is not easy though. I think its hard primarily because its not natural to admit that we’ve been living life in our own strength. In my own life, I just simply got so tired that I gave up. At which point things finally started to come together. 


So how do we know if we’re in proper orbit with God?

Our emotions do tell us a great deal. How calmly do you step off the field when its time to quit? How much do you despair when life takes you down an unintended or undesired path? Or alternatively, how quickly do we run to God with our fears, sadnesses and uncertainties? It is a mark of spiritual maturity to run to Him with our burdens after all. But its taken years of reading scripture and then sitting in corners all banged up for me to realize what the scriptures are calling me to.

Jesus wants us to come to Him. He just has this way of putting us all in our proper places again. In the best of ways. And while he’s definitely taken me to places I never would have asked to go I’ve also noticed that he’s never left me out in the cold. I’ve never been abandoned even when it sure as hell felt that way. Someone, even if its a stranger, comes out of the woodwork to help. Because we’re all orbiting the Sun together. Some of us are fighting our paths, others are walking freely in them. Most of us are somewhere in between. But we’re all orbiting our God whether we know it or not. Its those who follow the paths laid before them with an eye towards the center who seem to be living the most free.



I think its fair to say that I never understood the true wonder of a human life until I had my daughter. I thought when I started this blog that I would write more about parenting than I have. I think I’ve avoided it mostly because there’s not much I can write that hasn’t been written before. Its all true. I really would jump in front of a bus for this tiny person. Its just a reality and writing about it for me would feel a lot like writing “the sky is blue” on repeat.

Something I have wanted to reflect on more closely though are the truths about human nature and our relationship to God that are revealed so perfectly by children. These realities are THE THINGS that I couldn’t let go of when I was jumping around with fear over the decision to have kids and they are THE THINGS that keep me going when I’m tired and irritable from running after a two year old most days.

It would not be a lie for me to say that most days I can share at least one moment, often more, when I feel like God whispers to me through this 21 month old little person. She’s like the tiniest God reflector there ever was. She’ll delightedly explore a playground and I feel Him say: “Look at her. I’m calling you to be like that too.” Or I’ll swoon with pride over a new skill she’s picked up and I sense Him say to me on a soul level: “I love you that way too.” Even temper tantrums have their place as I realize that I act this way with God from time to time. And while I know its a universal feeling for parents to bring forth children and realize within short order that they would die for their kids, I don’t know that its instinctual for people to realize that through our kids God is saying the same thing back to us. I’m tempted to say that its not – or we’d all be a whole lot lighter.

Two things struck me profoundly when Ellie was born. The first was that I realized in an experiential way what it meant to be made in the image of God. I realized this because he gave me a first born child who is, at the moment and since she’s been born, a practical carbon copy of myself. I know she’ll mature and change and take on different interests and skills than I have but at the moment, raising her feels like raising an earlier version of myself with my husband’s delightfully long eyelashes.

The second thing I recall was amazement at how incredibly inefficient it is to raise a child. For all the babysitting I did as a teenager it wasn’t until I became responsible for one that the absurdity of a child’s helplessness came into view. Even with the technological advances of our day, there just aren’t any iBaby chargers available that you can stick your kid in for a couple of hours while you head down the street for a latte. Baby girl is coming with or you’re finding someone to watch her and that’s just the way it is. The fact that you need one adult person to spend 24 hours a day, 365 days per year for a minimum of 12 years in short walking distance of a child is astounding to me in a day and age where efficiency is king. Yet this is how kids become adults and how adults sustain their lives in community. It is a process of radical dependence regardless of the technology available to us.

I say all this to get back to a baseline of sorts. In Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve and says essentially this: “I’ve made a diverse and creatively complex world and as my kids, my image bearers, you are free to enjoy it all. Now take after me, and do what I do. Cultivate what I’ve given you and tend to it in creative ways. But do this with me. The minute you don’t you will put yourself in my shoes and the weight of that responsibility will be nothing short of crushing.” [paraphrase mine]

Is this not what we do when we raise a child? We give birth to another person who takes after us often in physical form or personality and then we give them the tools and materials they need to become cultivators themselves. I marvel as Ellie explores our house or helps herself to the pantry for a snack and reflects back to me the nature of divine love. She doesn’t really have to ask us for much (though for the sake of teaching manners or her own safety we encourage her to regularly). What we have is hers so long as its not harmful to her in some way. I’m also amazed that at 12 to 18 months these kids are anxious to get involved in the family routine. One of my main go-tos in terms of discipline lately is to ask Ellie for help when we need to clean up or avoid a probable tantrum over something she wants that I’m not ready for her to have. Her whole countenance moves into action as she feels enlisted as a big girl in the demands of the moment.

I guess what I want to say and am fumbling to express here is this: God has shown me through my kid that I take after him. At the same time I realize that everyone I meet is like him in some way too. He’s shown me that none of us were created to live life disconnected from the source of it. Its inefficient as hell and yet hell might just be the place where we’re so efficiently getting things done that we forget whom we were created for in the first place.

I believe on a soul level that this is what it means to be human. We bear the image of God to the world and in radical dependence on Him through our community we express his nature back to the world through the ways that we’re called to live and move and have our being. For parents, children are not valued once they start contributing in some tangible way to the family. They are valued in the first hours and days that they are born. In the same way, a child doesn’t arrive to us with a battery pack for use when her umbilical chord reserve runs dry. Babies are as needy and dependent as a person gets and they are, we are, designed that way. On purpose. So we might not be so focused on getting things done that we miss the primary relationship we were created for in the first place.

Becoming human, becoming whole, might just require a look back at the beginning. We need eyes to see our intrinsic worth and enough difficulty to push us into the arms of a God who would hold us, feed us and keep us warm. These – dear reader – these two realities, properly considered and inscribed on our hearts, would positively change the world. You are made in the image of God and whether you know it or not you are radically dependent on Him for your very breath. Reflect on this, ingest this on a soul level, and you’ll start finding out what it looks like to really live.

“You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone.

Your existence is a delight to us.”

(Rev. John Ames to his son in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead)

“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world. summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”

– Wendell Berry





Becoming Human – a New Series!

becoming human

In CS Lewis’ fictional masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, Lewis crafts a story about a seasoned demon named Uncle Screwtape who is guiding his nephew Wormwood in the ways required to keep a human away from intimacy with a Holy God. I read this a couple of years ago on a whim and was surprised to find that I loved it. It is classic Lewis – helping us to see through these fictional letters how we, believers in a loving God, get in our own way when it comes to living out our love stories in the world. There are countless quotes from that book that I could share and write about but I personally love this one from one of Uncle Screwtape’s letters to his demon-in-training nephew:

“When [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.

-Uncle Screwtape

This has been a theme that’s come up over the past year or two for me – the fact that following the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes us more human; more ourselves. I’m finding this to be true and it looks so much different than I would have originally thought. This following of God has not made me any more successful financially or physically. In fact, having a child and making the spirit led choice to be her primary caretaker at home has understandably done the opposite to both my body and our pocketbook!

But even in spite of those realities, I’m finding my way towards an inner peace and joy that I had not considered possible over the past 15 years.  Oswald Chambers put it this way the other day:

“[Becoming human] is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God… We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises— human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, [living and loving as a beloved child of God]. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God— but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people…this is not learned in five minutes.”

I’ve paraphrased Chamber’s words slightly here for clarity’s sake as he’s a bit Puritan at times. My favorite part is his gracious final sentence: “This is not learned in five minutes.” Ha! How true that is. I definitely feel like I am stumbling forward most days.

So for my own sake, and for you all, my readers, I’m considering a short series of posts entitled “Becoming Human.” These will be short posts about how a journey in partnership with God brings out the real Courtney, or the real insert your name here. I’m not entirely sure where this will go but I look forward to what we’ll discover together. I do think it will look a lot like a slow, perhaps at times difficult, but ultimately joyful path towards humble reliance on a God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7