Dear Atticus, the final frontier

“Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.” -Isaiah 40:26

Dangling stars

Dangling stars by Richard Bott. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

Dear Atticus,

I explained the dinosaur thing, but since you are also receiving presents that look like this, I should tell you that I have let it be known that I am really into space as well. And so, you have a few things that have space ships on them. If I could find a not-too-big rocket made of Legos, I would probably have already put it in your room. (Maybe we will talk about Legos another day. Because there are definitely Legos in your future.)

Like most of my interests, this one started with a book. This book was about the universe and I spent hours looking at the pictures. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars . . . I learned the names of the moons and how the planets compare in size and which ones are gas giants. I worked very hard on a booklet that had all that information in it, tracing around different glasses to represent the sizes of the planets. I learned about astronauts and entertained dreams of space camp. We watched all the space shuttles launch at school, even, yes, the Challenger. When we moved from Charlotte, we didn’t have TVs in every class anymore. I no longer got to watch the shuttles launch. I remember seeing the TV on in the school library the day of one of the shuttle launches and wishing that I could go and watch, not understanding why we didn’t stop everything and watch because we were sending people into space!

(And we won’t even talk about how all of that led to Star Wars and Star Trek.)

I don’t know exactly what fascinated (and still fascinates) me so much about space. Your dad feels that way, too. He keeps close tabs on the phases of the moon and other events like meteor showers. He has a telescope that he will help you use someday. And even though neither of us can pick out the constellations, we love to look at the stars. You have to go out in the country, like to your grammy’s house, to see them well. I lived out there with them for all those years and didn’t appreciate them like I should have.

Looking at the stars, learning about the planets makes me feel safe, helps me believe in the beauty and wonder of this world. It makes me feel as if there is a place for me, even though I am just one small person. It’s one of the things I find so mysterious about God, something I both believe in and struggle with: how can someone who is in charge of such a big universe take any kind of interest in my life? I don’t know the answer to that question. But for me, as for many people, both science and faith are pieces of this world that offer meaning. The people who would try to divorce them are, I fear, short-sighted.

For several years, I have kept a list of quotes about stars, in case I ever need them. I was looking over them as I was thinking about this letter, and there was one that stood out to me. Your dad and I shared a lot of music at the beginning of our relationship, and one artist in particular who brought us together was Rich Mullins. It’s a long story, the Rich Mullins shrine we created on the first anniversary of his death, so I will just tell you that we loved–still love–his music, and that he has been an inspiration for both of us as someone who was sincere and thoughtful about his faith. In one of his songs, he talks about the story of Abraham, who had no children. God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and Abraham, though he could not see how that could possibly be true, trusted what God said. Rich Mullins puts it this way: “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me.

Your dad and I try to have the kind of faith that allows for questions and intellectualism while also remembering to simply believe. It would be easier to trust in a system, that there is a discernible pattern, but we are not so sure the world works that way. Instead, like Abraham, we have to trust in what we cannot see. The good news is that there are a lot of people who have helped us along the way, and who will keep helping us as we try to teach you about these things that are so very important to us.

The world of science lives fairly comfortably with paradox. We know that light is a wave, and also that light is a particle. The discoveries made in the infinitely small world of particle physics indicate randomness and chance, and I do not find it any more difficult to live with the paradox of a universe of randomness and chance and a universe of pattern and purpose than I do with light as a wave and light as a particle. Living with contradiction is nothing new to the human being. -Madeleine L’Engle


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