Project Hail Mary is the latest work by Andy Weir. It is as good if not better than his first novel The Martian. I am not giving a review of his book. I am merely using the assumptions of the plot to discuss the larger picture of human relations, technology, and mysticism.
The Hail Mary Play
Even though the term was used in football before, it came into widespread use after Roger Staubach threw the amazing last ditch pass to Drew Pearson in the Super Bowl in 1975. “I closed my eyes and said a ‘Hail Mary.'” Anytime an act of desperation is required, we often say, “I threw the Hail Mary.”
Weir’s new novel is based on such an act of desperation to save the earth from the fading sun. What intrigues me the most about the story is how many small lateral pitches are required to make the mission work. There is no great grand saving gesture. It’s all about, as Matt Damon’s character at the end of the movie version of The Martian says, “you do the math. You solve the problem and the next one. And the next one. And the one after that.” Whatever the goal one has, it is reached in steps.
We know very little about the “mystery religions” of ancient Rome. Mithraism is the most intriguing to me. Gnosticism has more source documents. And the ancient rites of the traditional gods are lost to us. Ancient Christianity appears more diverse than it is today. But I really doubt that. The faith clergy are taught in seminaries is the result of centuries of consolidation of doctrine. Theology is a subject. But theology is a practice.
The words of the ancient prayer “Ave Maria” are drawn from a mystical experience Elizabeth had when she heard the voice of Mary. The story told in Luke 1 is not a “heavenly vision.” Two flesh and blood women are meeting. Gabriel told Mary about her “cousin” Elizabeth being pregnant because nothing with God is impossible. Mary decided to go to Elizabeth. Why? Luke doesn’t say. Elizabeth knows only that “the mother of my Lord has come to me.” (Luke 1:43b)
Christian mysticism is about the practice of living. We may fast and pray. Or we may feast and pray. Meditation, journaling, and contemplation are forms of prayer many choose to practice. Our mysticism is about doing in order to be. The spiritual acts of witness, outreach, and nurture grow out of spiritual self-care. Mary visits Elizabeth. Why? One reason may be to see the work of God in Elizabeth. Mary could be testing Gabriel’s claim.
The Technology of Hail Mary
The hero of Weir’s story, Ryland Grace, (yes I like the surname too) does his work by solving smaller problems. But the smaller problems involve his survival as well. He uses technology to solve them. I use the word to describe more than just tools and scientific instruments. There is an entire process of logic and response to it. What do I need to get information? Technology is using tools and information to build better tools to get more information. It continues. There is no end to the process. Technology grows. In the words of another great Science Fiction character, “It is fascinating.”
Earth is not exactly paradise. Human social organization is not either. So what is paradise? It is in no place (Utopia). And it is everywhere love is seen in action (Oikumene). Saving the ability to act from love is saving paradise. How do we do that?
I firmly believe in praying for the sick…after medicine is applied. The prayer is the proper ending for an act of compassion. I continue to believe humans can be saved and not merely salvaged. I agree we need better communication methods. But I also think fasting has more than a nutritional benefit. Feasting is never done alone.
Grace finds his way. The story is about how he got to where he is and how he gets to where he is going. Grace is the way of the mystic. Spiritual self-care is a discipline. It is one of many. But the spiritual growth of one person should benefit others. How else can we truly show we are saved?