Dust Motes and Orbit

On December 19 of last year, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield launched into space to begin a six-month stay in the International Space Station. He wasn’t entirely unknown at the time – he had around 20,000 followers on Twitter – but he was far from any sort of household name. However, over the last six months he has earned for himself world-wide fame, a million followers on Twitter, and a special place in the hearts of Canadians. This is due, in part, to some of the videos he made of life on the ISS. But the greater reason is the thousands of pictures he took of Earth from the space station, and the comments he made along with them. Those pictures are awesome, in the true sense of the word, and his comments express the pure wonder and delight that goes along with seeing them. As I reflected on these things, I was reminded of something that I’ve at times struggled to understand. You often hear from the pulpit that we must worship God not only on Sundays, but on every day of the week. We’re praising God when we sing, pray, and read the Word in Church, but also when we’re behind computer screens, underneath cars, on top of houses, and inside classrooms. Perhaps you’ve also felt that this is a nice thought, but a difficult one to actually grasp. Allow me to share some insights.

But first, some observations, which I will eventually work into my larger point. We wake up every morning and live our lives within a culture that’s accelerating its apostasy. It’s easy to show how the things that entertain us have become increasingly sordid and sinister, but it’s less easy to see how we’ve appropriated the philosophies that created that sort of entertainment in the first place. Shows like The Bachelorette don’t just spring up overnight; they can only become popular in a society which has certain beliefs about love, and which is also experiencing the consequences of those beliefs. It’s normal today, for instance, to think that romance gives birth to commitment instead of the other way around. But if the quality of our commitment is dictated by the intensity of our feelings, then we should not expect quality commitment. And this is exactly what we see around us. It is safe to say that our culture is rapidly losing the experience of a true and lasting romantic love; a love whose long roots of intimacy work their way throughout our hearts, gathering their potency from our willingness to give ourselves to another. And so we try to salvage this experience by living vicariously through cheap fairy tales that only perpetuate our emotional decline.

But our anemic ideas of love are the consequence of an even more basic problem: modern Western society is having a crisis of wonder. Wonder is a strange thing, and it has a difficult time making friends in a high-tech, scientific, and business-driven society. It cannot be explained, and it has no practical value; we cannot put it to any sort of use. Yet it’s something that is perfectly natural to us, ingrained in us from childhood. The other day my son noticed some dust motes floating around in our living room and tried to catch them. Some time later he was outside with a little bowl with which he was moving water from his wagon to a watering can, and back again. Hopelessly inefficient, of course, and without any real point. It’s the sort of unpractical behaviour we try to root out of our children as soon as possible. For in a world obsessed with being practical, wonder is soon recognized as the useless thing that it is, and it’s trained out of us.

There’s a catch to all this, however. For it turns out that the kingdom of God is really not a practical thing at all. God Himself told us that “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” My son didn’t demand that the dust mote reveal its secrets to him in order for him to use those secrets, either for making money or for advancing some all-encompassing theory of his. No, he was simply charmed by the dust mote as it was, as a strange, unattainable little thing floating through the air and catching the light; it needed no explanation at all. Neither did the mysterious water need explaining, as it poured from one container to the next, making different sounds and splashing its cool wetness on his skin. We, too, should be equally charmed by the truths that form the foundation of the eternal kingdom. In his sermon on Lord’s Day 18 on Sunday, Dr. Smith noted that the ascension of Christ into heaven is a sticking point for modern people for the very reasons that I’ve been outlining. “Really?” they say. “You believe that He just floated on up out of here?” Why yes, that is precisely it. And what a delightful thing! Our contemporaries refuse to believe this because they cannot explain it, but such a refusal is as out of place as a small child stopping his play because he cannot explain why it is fun.

In fact, a robust sense of wonder is what lies at the heart of our worship of God. You’ll never read the Bible fruitfully unless you read it with the same sense of wonder that a child has when he chases dust motes in the afternoon sunlight. You’ll get very little out of church if you have not primed the pump of delight in your heart, so that it flows readily from you. To think of wonder as a thing to grow out of is to think the thoughts of the devil, and to deny yourself access to God’s kingdom. For a culture without wonder is the culture we see around us; a culture of divorce, of brokenness, of abortion, of rampant sexual confusion, a culture in which intellectuals force upon us one destructive ideology after another. Nobody ever truly delights in anything the devil does. Delight and wonder draw us to God, which is why the devil tries so hard to vanquish them. For this reason, the Church in all that she does should set herself to presenting the truth as something wonderful. I don’t know if Chris Hadfield is a believer or not, but he has shown us that it is very much possible to re-awaken the wonder that slumbers in the cold hearts around us. People from all over the world marveled at his photos, and for no good reason other than that they were delightful.

And this is also where we find the key to worshiping God every day. No doubt it’s easy to be awe-inspired while gazing down on Earth from space. But the sense of wonder that Chris Hadfield communicated from orbit is the same sense of wonder we should seek to cultivate in our more mundane daily tasks. It’s by delighting in the profound and endless details of the world around us that we worship God moment by moment. And each vocation provides its own special window into creation. A landscaper has the privilege of working with things that grow, and of shaping them into pleasant patterns and designs; a teacher gets to watch as the minds of her students develop and expand; a plumber harnesses the properties of physics and fluids; and a scientist discovers the sublime movements of the universe. Indeed, you’ll have to give an account to God for every time you could have marveled at the world, but did not. When we have the same eye for details that children have, when we pause for a moment and reflect and allow our hearts to be gripped by the beauty that saturates the world around us, then we have discovered the secret of worshiping God every moment of every day. For it is natural in those moments, when we feel transported to a more enchanted place, that our hearts, like sunflowers, turn towards God in praise:

“O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches… I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 104).

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4 thoughts on “Dust Motes and Orbit

  1. We just came back from a four day Rogue River hike and were in awe of God’s creation. It was beautiful and quiet, just us and the river and walking, yet so rewarding. We could see God’s hand in today, with the memory of all those who had explored, gold panned, settled and trail blazed. We have also enjoyed our grandkids immensely, their view is so refreshing. Ma Schutte

  2. ““Really?” they say. “You believe that He just floated on up out of here?” Why yes, that is precisely it. And what a delightful thing! Our contemporaries refuse to believe this because they cannot explain it, but such a refusal is as out of place as a small child stopping his play because he cannot explain why it is fun.”

    – I felt I was almost reading an except from ‘Orthodoxy’ by G.K. Chesterton when I read this. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

    I really appreciated this post, thanks Jeremy.

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