Several years ago, I had the honor and privilege to meet and dine with astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human being to ever set foot on the moon.
It was an amazing opportunity to talk with someone whom my colleagues likened a famous explorer such as Leif Eriksson or Christopher Columbus.
It was during this encounter that I asked Armstrong what it had felt like looking back as the Earth slowly receded into the distance and the beautiful blues and greens of the seas and continents became smaller and less distinct.
I asked if he had thought about God or about the frailty of human kind as the immense size of the universe opened before him.
He thought for a while and spoke deliberately. He said he couldn’t help but think about God and the beauty of creation as he viewed sights never before witnessed by the human eye.
He shared that his faith grew stronger as a result of this experience, although he admitted he didn’t have a lot of time to reflect while the mission was underway. Even after going into orbit around the moon, the landing mission was uncertain and at best had a 50-50 chance of success.
During part of my time in the United States Air Force, and even a few years after, I worked in the area of space operations. A mathematics major in college, I enjoyed working with numbers and was fascinated by the physics, the harsh space environment and the precision of orbital mechanics.
Some would wonder what could possibly have led to this point in my life serving God as a pastor in a small rural community. It’s a long story. But while others may find their faith tested by advances in science and evolutionary theory, I’ve discovered that the mystery of existence, the ordering of the planets, the sun, moon and stars, the complexity and precision that exists even in such disciplines as chaos theory and evolutionary biology, could only have come about through the majestic and magnificent power of a creator.
We often pass through life with little regard for the incredible diversity and beauty of our surroundings. Yet God speaks to us through the creation — from the ordering of the heavens to the incredible detail of a single flower, we are meant to see God’s hand.
We are moving now into the spring season, when the Earth’s rotation and position in orbit changes the sun’s angle on our little part of the world and warms our area in the northern hemisphere.
As life awakens in the soil and in the plants, birds, insects and animals around us, stop for a moment and take the time to notice. And give thanks to God for your life, and even more importantly, for the eternal life offered through faith in our risen savior.
David Downer is pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Centre Hall. He can be reached at trinity firstname.lastname@example.org.