On Prayer

It’s a cliché, maybe not a very helpful, to say that looking into the sky is a profound spiritual exercise, because it impresses the seeker with our planet’s smallness over against the vastness of space. We can scarcely imagine the distance to our own moon (about 240,000 miles) or sun (93 million), let alone light years or parsecs. Only yesterday, in the twentieth century, did we learn of uncounted galaxies beyond the one that contains our sun.

All true enough, but suppose we turn the insight around, and contemplate the Psalmist’s question: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4) Now we are in the realm of theology not astronomy. Here we come up with a different insight—or the same insight with a different meaning. If we read back to former times, we find that our forebears confronted their smallness as clearly as we do. “What is man?” to them was a serious worry, which they carried with them to the New World. Why would the Creator God bother with such a vexatious creature; one who has disappointed him throughout their history together?

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