Watching the Red Planet

August 1, 2018 by

mars and moon rising over sydneyLunar eclipse and Mars over Sydney, Australia on 27 July 2018. Photo by Robbie Pesiwarissa.

The planet Mars has been the “star” of the night sky for the past month, its red glow hard to miss on our evening horizon. That’s because it’s closer to Earth than it’s been in fifteen years. The show will go on through August, so make sure you get outside and don’t miss it.

My husband, Chris, and I share a love of the night sky. It’s paradoxical – the exhilarating yet humbling feeling you get when you gaze at the heavens and marvel at the expanse of creation and the power of the Creator.

“Look at all the stars, You look up and you think, ‘God made all this and He remembered to make a little speck like me.’ It’s kind of flattering, really.” Chris loves to quote those whimsical lines from Morgan Earp, in Tombstone. I prefer the original, not the paraphrase: “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:3–4)

Neither I nor my husband is much of an astronomer (click here for an easy to understand description of why Mars is sometimes bright and sometimes faint), but that’s another aspect of the beauty of stars and planets: they are simply there, for all of us to take in, to ponder, to enjoy. To give us perspective.

“There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.” 
—Thornton Wilder

In August 2003, when Chris wrote the poem that follows, the Iraq War was barely five months old. Baghdad fell to US forces that April after a “shock and awe” bombing campaign. Earlier in the year, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry from space. The sky was an uneasy place, and Mars dominated.

Chris was obviously thinking of Psalm 91 when he wrote these lines. And knowing him, he was probably thinking, too, of Thornton Wilder’s assertion (Our Town), “There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

I share Chris’s poem today because Mars is again on display and giving us fresh pause for thought, and because, while yesterday’s wars may have shifted to other fronts, we are all travellers on the eternal search for the shelter of the Most High.

Mars, August 2003
They say it’s closer than it’s been
for sixty thousand years, the red planet.
I watch it claim the horizon, take it
by storm at twilight. The god of war
without apology, bright as brass,
a button in the sky. Press it
and kiss the world goodnight.
I remind myself not to hope
for long life, though the psalmist,
from his blanket folds, sought comfort there.
We are pinned down by sky, God’s children
coiled beneath its swollen abdomen –
a generation fed on blood in utero, hungry
enough to swallow ourselves whole.
Press instead against God’s arching shadow,
and with the galaxy, pinioned
by the great restraining wing, crave
the last star, to deliver us
into our first and final morning.

To keep up with Norann and her thoughts on motherhood, discipleship, and great recipes, follow her on Twitter at @NorannV. Comments

About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • It’s too bad nature is often seen simply an object of analysis and control. Wonder seems to be a lost art, to be replaced by science and engineering. Man becomes the center of the universe, not God.

    Kevin Cushing
  • Is amazing that in this times, we can find a Community like your. Congratulations. Is inspire and gives hope. Thank you so much for the information.

    Maria Blanco