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Gary's Faith Walk

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Faith and Science

I admit to living in two very different worlds this June. The first is the beautiful North Country bursting with spring. The light green of birch, larch, and mountain maple adorns our trees. The lupine on the valley floors and the balsam arrowroot along mountain trails deliver bursts of color after the months of white we all endured together. But the other world I’m living is, well, “out there.” It is space, the cosmos, and this month that means the red planet Mars and the Earth-circling International Space Station.

As a child and teenager my dream was to become an astronaut. My heroes were the Mercury 7 astronauts. I followed each Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launch hoping, planning to someday be “out there” in space. The dream, however, collided with differential equations in Advanced Calculus. My inability to grasp easily the language of higher mathematics abruptly brought an end to plans for an astronautics degree and a future in space.

Today, I am deeply content with the career path which God, and not I, had in mind for my life. Perhaps differential equations represented the needed detour sign to move me from one road to another. But, across these many years, my childlike interest in space exploration has not abated. It is in fact one of my avocations – an activity one participates in for pleasure, a hobby, something like geocaching or woodworking or quilting for others.

So, I have been riveted by the newscasts and the web coverage of the landing of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander on the planet’s polar north. After a 9 month, 422 million mile journey (only slightly further than a trip to Boise or Billings), Phoenix soft landed and is engaged in extraordinary research to determine climate, geology and if life ever existed on Mars.

Meanwhile closer to home ten space travelers from the US, Russia, and Japan continue to expand the International Space Station. The multinational team is bolting onto the station a huge laboratory named Kibo (Japanese for “hope”). When completed, astronauts will conduct research in space medicine and biology in the lab while zipping along 215 miles over our heads at a speed of 17,200 mph.

As a follower of Jesus, I have no trouble in holding the mystery of faith and the quest for scientific knowledge in balance. I maintain this balance because “theology is the discipline that guides our thinking about God, ourselves and the world… while natural science is our ordered thought about creation - or nature - the physical world, that of heavens and the earth, including plants, living creatures, and ourselves in relationship to our earthly and cosmic environment.” I don’t need faith and science to be opposites. I readily see them as complements for my own journey through life.

So will my faith be shattered if next month or next year, the Mars Lander finds evidence of microscopic life past or present on the Red Planet? Will it be shattered if in the next decade scientists searching for intelligent life on distant planets confirm that “we are not alone” in the heavens? Not hardly. In my faith walk, I allow for mystery, for the unknown, and even the unknowable. As I ponder these questions with the beauty of spring all around us, I am reminded that science calls me to take a bigger view of life. And, when I take that bigger view I must always ask myself, “How large am I prepared to let God be?”

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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