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Lighting Our Own Universe

Great Canadian hero Chris Hadfield’s a retired astronaut who, among other things, commanded missions to space, helped build the Canadarm on the International Space Station, commanded the ISS and walked in space. First Canadian to do most of those and certainly the first person to record an album in space, including his famous cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (watch it on YouTube). These days he travels and speaks and teaches. He’s also written some books, including a great children’s book “The Darkest Dark.”

It’s the defining story of his childhood. He always wanted to fly, be a pilot and an astronaut. But he was afraid of the dark. His parents let him sleep with them, but then they couldn’t sleep either. They’d check his room for aliens, gave him a night light and even a bell to ring if he was scared. The bell got taken away pretty quick, but finally his parents had to tell him something that was scarier than the dark: if he didn’t go to sleep in his own bed, he couldn’t go to the neighbour’s the next day. So he did. Chris’ family, you see, lived on an island in rural Ontario and it was 1969 and only the neighbour had a television.

Everyone was going to their house to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. Real astronauts. On the moon. And Chris was amazed. He also notice how dark it was there. “Outer space was the darkest dark ever.”

That night, when Chris went to bed, he wasn’t scared. It was still dark, there were still shadows and mysteries, nothing there had changed. But he had. He’d seen the universe was bigger and darker and he wanted to go there and explore all of it. He realized, too, that you’re never really alone there, because you take with you your dreams about what you want to be and do.

That’s just a brief “adult” description. The book’s way better and you should read it. Sometimes it takes an adult remembering what it’s like to be a kid, to tell a story like a kid, to help us understand the wisdom of a child is at the heart of being an adult.

He adds a personal afterword in which he says “it was quietly in the dark where I first decided who I was going to be and imagined all the things I could do. The dark is for dreams – and morning is for making them come true.”

Thank you, Jesus.

I’m pretty sure my interpretation of that isn’t what Chris had in mind. But listen, Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus has him begin his ministry in Galilee because that fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah: that’s where, he says, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Speaking of interpretations, that’s the Christian one, of course – Isaiah’s audience would have heard it differently.)

The first thing he does is shine on some fishermen who drop what they’re doing and come and follow him so that they can “fish for people” with Jesus. They learn how to shine their own light and, looking ahead, they shine on people who, looking further ahead, learn to shine their own light who shine on people who, well, you get the idea.

But wait, Robin, if the light shines on everyone and everyone shines their own light – because, yes, the Light is in everyone and everything created by God, with God and in God – wouldn’t there be no darkness at all?

I want to say that would be nice, but no. How would we distinguish anything? How would anything be unique and how could we all have the uniqueness of our own perspective: the view created by us, shining our light into the world? And, we have freewill and make choices. Look at how Chris talks about the universe. I think he learned to shine his light into the darkness and that showed him the power and mystery and beauty of what’s there and then he did something with it. That, I think, is what Jesus does and what we, too, can do.

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