On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first Human Walking on the Moon, A Zen Priest Reflects on Reaching for the Stars

On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first Human Walking on the Moon, A Zen Priest Reflects on Reaching for the Stars July 21, 2019

 

 

One of the interesting themes to my young life as a boomer was the background reality of the space race.

Like most all children in the country I followed the space program avidly from the announcement of Sputnik when I was nine years old, to that moment sitting with friends and watching a snowy black and white television broadcasting Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon’s surface on the 20th of July, 1969.

Fifty years ago.

I continue to be interested in the exploration of space. And, in some visceral way I hope the stars are our destiny. Probably not. I believe it more likely we will kill ourselves off before we have the ability to reach out to the stars. We are such a bloody minded species.

But. Or, maybe it is and. Maybe part of why I like Star Trek a bit more than Star Wars, with its optimism for our human species growing into something. And, that hopefulness for us comes with that mystery of our reading out. There is something beautiful in that reaching out. Just that reaching out.

Now, there is an important admonishment on the Zen way about letting the ten thousand things advance to you rather than going out to the ten thousand things. This is a critical practice point.

And, at the same time there is something as natural as breathing in reaching out. And if our hearts are open in a moment we can lose our sense of who is reaching out to whom, what to what.

We need to find this.

The magic of it is the open heart. The miracle of it is the wide open mind. When we forget our certainties, who is reaching out to whom?

Then there is simply that reaching. At the same time it contains within it so much.

As I noticed this anniversary I found myself thinking of two things. First, when Ronald Regan, not my favorite politician, but, following one of those several tragedies of the space program did what a president should do. He reached out a hand and offered a healing word.

In that moment, which I find echoed in my heart today, he recited John Gillespie Magee’s sonnet High Flight.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Humans. The worst of animals. The most beautiful of animals.

What a piece of work…

As William Shakespeare sang and has been reusing so many times

Here we are within our human condition. I’ve heard us called a lot of terrible things. And, frankly, we deserve every epithet a thoughtful and observant person can call us. It’s all true.

And, we are a miracle. We can reach out and touch the face of God. I as something different can reach out to the divine. And, of course, there is something else happening at the same time.

Today on this anniversary of that most amazing thing, human beings walking on the surface of the moon. And, I picture that just reaching out. And the wonderment of who is reaching out to whom.

I think of us humans as something like that image we usually call the yin yang, really the tai-chi, the grand ultimate, with those two tadpoles, symboled as black and white, and each with an eye containing the seed of the other.

And, all along the way, every moment breath rises and falls within our bodies, we can turn toward the one, or the other.

From our birth doomed.

From our birth, reaching out to touch the divine.

Just reaching out.

Just reaching.

Within the mystery.

The hand of God touching the face of God.

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