Space for Peace
You may be familiar with the book, Contact, by Carl Sagan or the movie based on his book. An alien intelligence has made contact with Earth with a message - a series of schematics for a ?Machine.? It is presumed this machine will take a single human being on a distant space voyage to encounter the authors of the message itself. NASA, with help from several other countries and later from a mysterious tycoon, builds the Machine following the deciphered blueprints. They make only one change. Though it's not in the design, they feel it necessary to add a seat at the center of the pod for the Machine's passenger, the intrepid Dr. Ellie Arroway. Ellie soon boards, belts up tightly, and ?good to go,? readies herself for the journey.
The unorthodox craft soon enters a tunnel of light, a sequence of deep space wormholes. Ellie's seat begins to rumble violently, shaking her body. Holding a small token from a friend, a necklace with a compass pendant, she releases it and it floats from her hand. Seeing this lack of gravity, Ellie unbuckles and begins to float freely herself. The empty seat continues to shudder then shears from its moorings. With it now out of the way, pinned to the ceiling, an arresting silence fills the pod as Ellie glides with spectacular speed through the beauty of interstellar space to her ultimate destination.
The seat was superfluous all along. It wasn't in the blueprints. It didn't need to be added. It flawed an otherwise beautiful design.
We talk of peace of mind at Christmas, but we tend to add so much bustle and movement to the season that we actually contribute to our own lack of peace. The anxious rushing around we do really isn't in the true blueprints of the original idea of Advent. The stress we put on ourselves isn't in the schematics. The exhaustion we visit upon ourselves to deliver the perfect Christmas experience isn't really needed. In fact, if peace is our aim, these things we add actually take away from the beauty of the voyage toward our ultimate destination: the presence of God on Christmas Eve and Morning with a full comprehension of the import of Christ's birth. Especially in such a difficult year, perhaps if we can come around the idea of shedding those things we have superfluously added to our journey, we might just find the peace our hearts really seek.
At the end of the movie, Ellie, who's been not merely a skeptic, but an atheist all her life, returns to Earth and is questioned aggressively before a government panel by the movie's villain, Michael Kitz, as her spacecraft has mysteriously recorded no telemetry to prove she?d made the extraordinary journey she claimed. Here's their exchange:
Kitz: Dr. Arroway, you come to us with no evidence, no record, no artifacts. Only a story that to put it mildly strains credibility. Are you really going to sit there and tell us we should just take this all on faith??You admit that if you were in our position, you?d respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism.
Kitz: Then why don't you just withdraw your testimony?
Ellie: Because I can't. I had an experience. I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever, a vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny and insignificant we are, but also how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something greater than ourselves, that none of us are alone. I wish that everyone, if only for one moment, could feel that awe, that humility, that hope.
While we grieve the experiences we?re losing this Christmas, let's not try to fill the hole with the superfluous. Rather let's do our best to rest inside the space, the time, the opportunity to get back to the original design which reliably and truly does bring us awe, hope, and a divine sense of peace.
God ? There are some things I've treasured that I'll miss this year - things I closely associate with the Christmas experience. But as this absence opens up some space, may there be a sort of addition by subtraction, creating room for peace to descend upon me.