Yesterday was a purely fun moment in my life as a Catholic reporter. Don’t misunderstand: I enjoy covering informative workshops and solemn Masses, but sometimes it’s great to enjoy what my former editor and I dubbed a “kids and balloons” story: no research, no scholarly preparation, just show up and take a snapshot of the proceedings. A large New Jersey pharmaceutical company had transported a portable planetarium to a local Catholic school to foster the students’ interest in science, and I was assigned to document the sixth graders’ reactions to the presentation.
When I called the school for a pre-interview and the secretary started the conversation with, “….and the children will crawl through the tunnel,” I chose to dress in casual slacks rather than a skirt. This proved to be a dignity-saver: the principal, teacher, 25 children and I all crawled down a long, dark, hot, fan-blown polyethylene tunnel to reach the planetarium viewing dome, then sat cross-legged on the floor for the presentation. (Luckily, the sound of the fan was loud enough to cover the crackling of my half-century-old knees as I crept along.)
The presenter clicked on a cylinder studded with pinpoint holes, and suddenly the ceiling and walls of the dome were filled with numerous stars. As our eyes became adjusted to the dim lights, constellations and star fields became recognizable. The excited sixth graders, fresh from their unit on astronomy, pointed upwards and called out confidently, “Oh, look, the Big Dipper! And there’s Polaris, the North Star! And isn’t that Rigel in the Orion constellation?” I, a few decades removed from that particular body of knowledge, was busy suppressing the urge to say, “Rigel? Wait: isn’t that where Kirk and Spock attended the Federation conference?” Just then, the presenter interjected, “Children, remember Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft,” and, just for a moment, the 25 wiggling children looked up quietly and smiled in the glow of God’s reflected glory.
All too soon, the presentation was over and the children raced one another out of the dome. (I was squarely in last place, not out of a sense of decorum, but because my leg had fallen asleep). I crawled down the warm tunnel once again, snapped a few pictures, and bade them farewell. Looking back, I guess the trips down the long hot tunnel subliminally influenced my luncheon choice: a pepperoni stromboli.
So, tonight when you look up at the stars, feel free to flex your astronomy muscle to seek Ursa Minor or the Andromeda Galaxy, or indulge your love of campy science fiction television shows to imagine William Shatner ponderously proclaiming, “Space, the final frontier”, but you also might remember the words of Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 flight in July, 1969. During a television broadcast the night before splashdown, Aldrin quoted Psalm 8:4-5: When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? Mere mortals that you care for them? Look up at the stars, engage your faith, and remember: you are the greatest of God’s creations, and you are loved.