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.

2 Replies to “Becoming Human: A Lesson From Galileo”

  1. Loving your blog! In the same vein, there’s a great historical book called, “Galileo’s Daughter”. It covers their relationship and all of his comings and goings. Galileo’s daughter was a nun, so anything sent to her (lots of letters from him) was preserved by the Church. It’s a one-way conversation, but works well. it’s easy to pick up & put down – great for a Mom!


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