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Even in prehistoric times when early humans sketched and carved stories onto cave walls, people have been fascinated with the nighttime sky.
That cave art often features the full moon as it illumines us and other earthbound creatures. We all wonder about the nature of the universe when we look up during a “new moon”—when the moon can barely be seen, and the rest of the sky is more visible. Tonight’s new moon will present another opportunity to meditate on the vastness of the universe and the secrets within it.
I recently attended an astronomy evening in a specially-designated “Dark Sky Reserve.” Even without a perfectly clear evening, we saw stars, constellations, and many other more exotically-named structures of the physical universe. The usual adjectives came to mind: dazzling, awe-inspiring, spectacular, and so on. As I looked upward, I imagined an unknown lifeform on another planet, looking at Earth and wondering if anyone were returning their gaze. Surely there is life out there, and we ponder each other.
The Baha’i teachings even mention life on other planets; my wondering isn’t as far-fetched as it may appear to some folks:
Consider, moreover, the manifold divergencies that have resulted from the theories propounded by these men. Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 162.
We can neither confirm nor deny whether we are literally within sight of other lifeforms. Instead, perhaps we can be content with imagining our gazing at each other and reflecting on what that means.
I often had a similar experience in the resort town of Eilat, during my eight years living in Haifa, Israel. I would look across the Red Sea to the shores of Jordan and think about someone in Aqaba sitting at a café, themselves curious about people on my side of the Sea. Due to then-current politics, we weren’t allowed to cross into Jordan, and the reverse was generally true. Nevertheless, it seemed likely that people there would go to cafés and share with friends what they had just seen on their scuba diving trip. After all, sea life is without borders, and enthusiasm for diving knows no boundaries either.
A few years ago I experienced an odds-defying coincidence. Chatting with the owner of a newly-opened bagel shop, I learned he was originally from Jordan. Out of curiosity I asked him if he had ever gone diving in Aqaba, and yes he had. Venturing further, I told him my ideas about people there looking across the sea to Eilat, each of us having just finished a similar dive. Guess what? It turned out he had thought the very same thing. At that moment, we were silently, truly one.
Well, it doesn’t take much imagination to connect these stories. Indeed they speak to the essential oneness of humanity. Our man-made borders can’t be seen from space, and nature disregards them here on Earth. We humans yearn for harmony within our families, our communities, and ultimately the entire world. For that to happen, the politics, prejudices, and social conventions that separate us must—and someday will—be transformed to bring us together rather than tear us apart.
Abdu’l-Baha challenged us to envision a time of true unity in the future:
… if every clan, tribe, community, every nation, country, territory on earth should come together under the single-hued pavilion of the oneness of mankind, and by the dazzling rays of the Sun of Truth should proclaim the universality of man; if they should cause all nations and all creeds to open wide their arms to one another, establish a World Council, and proceed to bind the members of society one to another by strong mutual ties, what would happen then? – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 279.
As a Baha’i I recognize the inevitability of our moving toward this consciousness—and yet, living in the midst of our troubled times, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how far we need to go to realize such a great truth. I have this advice from Baha’u’llah on my office wall: “Rest assured and persevere.” – The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 156. It reminds me that our goal will be realized if we keep a steady vision, are confident in our efforts, and take firm steps to bring it about. Sometimes the steps are small; yet sometimes they are longer and stronger.
I invite us all to look at the sky this evening and think about what beings from other planets would notice if they could see us here on Earth. Then, from that galactic scale to an earthly-scale, what do we see when we look across the continent, the country, and even our own neighborhoods? If we truly desire peace and unity, we know it can and must start here and now, under the moon, the stars, and the sun.