On July 20, we remember, commemorate, and perhaps celebrate the 50th anniversary of man’s setting foot on the moon. Fifty years ago I was a high school junior spending the summer living and working at Covenant College on Lookout Mountain. That Sunday evening we gathered around a TV in the lobby of the college’s main hall as Neil Armstrong stepped from the Eagle, setting foot on the lunar surface, proclaiming, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Shortly thereafter, Buzz Aldrin joined him, but few remember that his response to that moment simply was “Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful desolation.” It’s not hard to imagine that Aldrin was overwhelmed by both the moment and what astronaut Alan Bean later described as “barren beauty.” Aldrin himself said he was taken by the “acute contrast” of the moonscape and that his first remarks were the “spontaneous description prompted by an observation of just looking around.”

“Beautiful desolation.” What an odd combination of words, oxymoronic in nature, and rather ironic when one considers how CBS News reporter Haywood Hale Broun said a few days earlier when reporting on the launch of Apollo 11. As he witnessed the launch from Cocoa Beach, Broun described the launch stunning the crowd of witnesses “into a kind of frozen disbelief . . . [the crowd] just staring and reaching. It was the poetry of hope.”

Broun would later describe the Apollo 11 mission as “a search for another Eden . . . leaving behind the rusty cage by which [man’s] own mistakes have held him.”

“Beautiful desolation.” “Barren beauty.” “Acute contrast.” “Frozen disbelief.” “Poetry of hope.” “Another Eden.” “Rusty cage.”

What a collection of provocative ideas and powerful thoughts, not so far removed from those opening lines from T. S. Eliot, who challenges us to “be still and still moving/Into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion/Through the dark cold and empty desolation.”

Moonrise over the Sahara

Imagine those astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin, and later Bean, as they hurtled through space, the intensity of that act and the communion of faith and science. And those lines from Eliot are not so far removed from the Scripture Buzz Aldrin read as he celebrated Communion while on the moon:

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” – Psalm 8: 3 – 4 (KJV)

And then as he concluded with John 15: 5:

“I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me, ye can do nothing.” (KJV)

But notice, too, how Eliot begins and ends his Four Quartets – starting with “In the beginning is my end,” and concluding with “In the end is my beginning.” Think about those lines and the inherent meaning, taking into consideration Eliot’s take on the cyclical nature of life. Perhaps this is the Alpha and Omega, the “acute contrast,” “the poetry of hope,” for “in the beginning was the Word.”

 

        Earthrise over the Sea of Tranquility                     

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