This week, the Cassini spacecraft beamed back its final images from Saturn, before intentionally diving into the planet’s atmosphere to burn up.
Cassini had an extraordinary mission, and an extended one – the launch was way back in 1997, and it had been in orbit around Saturn for 13 years. Do you remember 1997? It’s a little blurry to me too, but that’s how long this spacecraft has been at work.
The scientific data from Cassini is groundbreaking, and sure to provide new insights for years to come as it is more fully understood. But for now, just look!
See that little arrow? See that little dot? That’s us. All of us. Our joys and our sorrows. Our most glorious achievements and our most horrible mistakes. All the people we’ve ever loved. All the people we’ve ever been. All of our stories – the truths and the fictions. All of the elephants and kittens and spiders and sea stars and creatures of the deep we have yet to meet. All of the sand dunes and mountaintops. All of the rivers and oceans. The land and the seas. The storms and the calm.
And so immense.
Spend a few minutes here today, with more of the stunning images from this mission. Wonder.
I was inspired (as is often the case) when listening to a recent OnBeing podcast that revisited an extended conversation between journalist Krista Tippett and poet John O’Donohue. This passage on beauty especially struck me, and to my delight I heard Tippett herself reference it at the terrific Women Moving Millions summit this weekend.
If indeed we do feel more alive in the presence of great beauty, I’d argue that glamour usually has the opposite effect. When you stand on a mountaintop, or in front of a great painting, or in the presence of a newborn baby, there’s often a feeling of immensity, and of your connection to that grandness. Enormity. Vitality.
When faced with airbrushed ads, or glittery small talk, or certain forms of soul-less fashion, the effect is not at all grand: there’s a seductive, entertaining element, but instead of that joyful vastness underneath, there’s an undertow of anxious not-enough-ness. Smallness. Blankness.
Glamour is quick to pull is in, but beauty takes a while. It’s usually hidden behind some effort: you have to climb the mountain or have the long conversation or set down everything else to focus on the music, and only then is the beauty – sometimes – revealed.
This week I also visited the September 11 memorial for the first time. In the middle of the plaza, there is a pear tree that miraculously survived 2001. It is wizened and charred near the base, and the new growth is a little awkward and lumpy and misshapen.
But oh, this tree. It is so beautiful.
Dear Honeybees, let’s fill this week not with the blinding dazzle of glamour, but with the steady glow of beauty.
After finishing divinity school, I walked the Camino route of St. James across northern Spain – 500 long miles. When I finally reached the cathedral in Santiago, there was a curious carving embedded in its facade.
Many cathedrals feature the alpha-omega pairing, as this is an ancient name for God in Abrahamic religions. (In more recent centuries, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote of the omega point as the point of divine unification, the spiritual cousin to Ray Kurzweil‘s scientific singularity.)
At the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the heart of a web of pilgrimage routes that stretches throughout Europe, the objective of all of those pilgrims’ steps, the characters are reversed.
Omega and alpha.
The end is the beginning, the beginning is the end.
I must admit, as my feet throbbed with blisters, as my pack weighed on my back, this notion was simultaneously joyful and exhausting. And perfect. Of course the end was the beginning – why else take a pilgrimage, if not to be changed, and to continue on?
Dear Honeybees, as our attention shifts with the turning of the seasons, one pilgrimage leading to the next, may all of your omegas bring you seamlessly to the next alpha, spiraling ever upward.
* Speaking of the Omega Point, the Omega Institute has a terrific Indiegogo campaign right now, where you can livestream their Being Fearless conference in October, featuring Van Jones, Sister Joan Chittister, Paul Hawken, and Jamia Wilson, and others, with bonus online access to an upcoming Matthieu Ricard event as well. If you need a little boost to your alpha-omega spiraling (and who doesn’t?), this is a wonderful opportunity.
As the season starts to turn, let’s unplug!
If only for a moment.
If you prefer to unplug with a book, our Summer Reading list can be found in the Honeybee Library (where else?).
On Monday many of us will have the best chance in our lifetimes to see a solar eclipse. It’s always a little bit terrifying, when the thing that’s always been there suddenly is not.
The great benefit of any sort of eclipse – personal, national, solar – is that it gives us the chance to rejoice at the reappearance of the light.
Here’s to that light – to the survival of our souls.