Voyager 1 looks over its shoulder back to Earth

Mary Magdala Community

“Voyager 1 looks over its shoulder” ©

Thoughts on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 29, 2018

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

This summer’s post-sundown evening skies have been a delight!  If you are fortunate enough, as we are, to have a clear and open view to the southern sky then you know what I’m talking about.  With Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars coming into view before the stars fill in around them they are the markers of our place in the solar system.  With the full moon tracking with Mars along the same path of east to west over these past few evenings the show has been even more impressive – one night following upon the other.  Then there’s the Red Moon that our far distant neighbors of the southern hemisphere saw because of the alignment of the sun, earth, and the moon causing the earth’s shadow to cover the moon turning it that dark red.  Just a wonder of summer bravura!

Jean and I have travel on our minds as we prepare to leave on an extended trip to Europe complete with cruising on the Rhine River, a visit to German ancestors in Orscholz, and a stopover in Dublin (of course).  So, please excuse us if we seem just a little distracted.  But this anticipation for travel and the wonder of the solar system out our doorstep has resurrected yet another view.  It is of Voyager 1’s photo of Earth as it left our solar system 28 years ago.  You can see the photo at:


As I only recently read – or, have now rediscovered 28 years later – Voyager’s view over its shoulder came at Carl Sagan’s request to NASA that, as it left our solar system, the interstellar explorer take one last shot of the planets.  This bluish-whitish dot is us.  This is why we began our Service this morning with Sagan’s words that accompanied this photo almost three decades ago.  I’m attaching those words at the end of these homily thoughts. If you really want to get the full effect go to the URL of Sagan’s voice saying these oh so thoughtful words.

Now, here’s why I see this star-gazing as fitting for today’s Eucharist.  The Reading from Ephesians states that in the experience of all being gift we come to the knowledge of God, “the Maker of All.”  “There is one Savior, one faith, one baptism, one God and Maker of all, who is over all, who works through all, and is within all.” (Eph.4:6)  Remember that Ephesians was written to give one of those “big picture” accounts for which the Pauline literature is famous.  (One can discount the antiquated teaching on marriage and other relationships in Chapters 5&6 and still find the teaching instructive.)  Here is presented the biggest picture of all which is the church’s relationship to the Creator.  How fitting is this vision in combination with our Summer Sky night treats?

The thing of it is, one may get lost in the vastness of the wonder of it all; a temptation to feel diminished and insignificant.  Yet, by a happy coincidence of lectionarial interplay we have this gospel story of the little boy and his lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Andrew asks, “What good are these among so many?” as he looked out upon the throng that was following Jesus up the hillside.

Such is one lesson for us today:  See the big picture and respond with small acts of love and service.  We’re told in the reading from the Gospel of John that Jesus knew what he was going to do.  My guess is he knew because he was totally keyed in on what it means to love the other.  It matters little to me whether there was a physical multiplication of these loaves and fish or whether, seeing the generosity of the little boy, others also opened up their lunch buckets to share. “Be not afraid, I go before you always” as the song goes.

So, here we are on the little blue dot.  Where are the billionaires with their hoards?  Where are the dictators and “strong men” grubbing after their little patch of earth?  Where are all those we are told to be frightful of and to hate?  The little child shall lead us to that embarrassment of riches which is to say all resources are meant to be shared on our common home.  Oh my!

   A Prayer  (JR)

A speck of dust is what we are.

Who is mindful of us?

What force, what energy, what being?

When this speck is gone what will survive?

What hole, what rock, what light?

Maker of all, we know more than the ancients,

yet we seem less informed.

Here, in front of us, is the small boy

with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

“What good is that among so many?”

the disciple asks.

May our open hearts and open hands of service

save us from our smallness

and make our speck a common home.

Amen.  (JR)

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space


“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.


On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.


The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king, queen, and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”


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