Yesterday humanity took one more step closer to the stars. Perseverance landed on another planet in our solar system! Using artificial intelligence to find her own safe landing site she immediately sent back photos of the terrain to let the humans waiting in the control room know that she was safe. Perseverance and two other Mars mission spacecrafts from China and the Arab Emirates took off from Earth seven months ago to travel 300 million miles to this red planet. Perseverance is the first rover to land of the three.
As I watched with the scientists at the JPL Mission Control room, I felt the same sense of anticipation and the joy of relief as the announcement came, “touchdown confirmed.” The tears flowed and I was reminded of my life-long dream to be the first woman on Mars. It was quite an emotional afternoon, but it also made me think of the spiritual implications of reaching for the stars and the bigger question: What is humanity going to take to the stars? Will we take love or hate, peace or aggression, cooperation or selfishness?
It is no coincidence that the names of the U.S. Mars rovers have all come from the children of Earth, children who are born and blessed with wondrous spiritual knowledge. In naming these incredible spacecrafts, the children remind us of the highest spiritual ideals that humanity must take to the stars as true Children of the Divine.
Pathfinder was launched in 1997 taking Sojourner to Mars. To “sojourn” is to “live somewhere temporarily” and reminds us that our life on Earth is only temporary and that we are on a journey back to our true spiritual home. And when we sojourn out to the stars, no matter where we go, we are still on that spiritual journey home. (After a long career on Mars, Sojourner is now quiet and at rest.)
In 2004, Spirit and Opportunity arrived on Mars, on opposite sides of the planet. Spirit, the “life principle,” the essence of our lives represents our acknowledgment of our true spiritual nature and that there is so much more to us than we could possibly imagine. Opportunity means “favorable circumstances for advancement.” How do we, as humanity want to advance? Which spiritual ideals do we want to bring to the stars? This is our opportunity as people of Earth to really work together and resolve all our differences, to become united in our diversity, to take the best of us into every new step to the stars. (Spirit and Opportunity are also at rest and quiet after amazing scientific advancements.)
Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 and is amazingly still working. Curiosity is “a desire to learn,” a very important trait for growth that has brought and continues to bring exciting knowledge to humanity. We are curious from the moment we open our eyes to this beautiful world God has created for us. We always want to know more and to experience all the good we have been given. But often we look only for the opposite and come to believe that we are separated from the Oneness of All Life. Just knowing that Curiosity is still working despite the odds gives us a message of hope, that we are still growing in God’s love.
And now in 2021, Perseverance has taken humanity another step closer to the stars. Perseverance means “to continue a course of action despite difficulty.” There has been great difficulty on Earth this past year with the worldwide pandemic that is still happening. People are still at war, still experiencing injustice, poverty, hunger, and this winter, natural disasters of freezing arctic weather and earthquakes. But we still persevere to heal these challenges with hope and faith, important qualities of humanity to take to the stars.
Perseverance was named by eighth grader, Alex Mather, from Virginia. It is symbolic of this spiritual ideal of moving ahead despite difficulties. Vaneeza Rupani, a high school senior from Alabama, named the drone helicopter accompanying Perseverance — Ingenuity. Both young students are interested in persevering with careers in space science. Mather and Rupani and their families were invited to watch the launch of Perseverance and Ingenuity at Cape Canaveral. Alex said about his entering the competition that drew 28,000 entries, “Refusal of the challenge was not an option.”
Mather’s words have a deeper meaning for humanity. Refusal of the challenge of taking only the highest spiritual ideals to the stars in not an option. We have been given a great gift to be able to travel our solar system and beyond. Doing it as humanity, not separate countries or businesses, is the goal. This includes taking the best of who we are and who we want to become out to the stars.
Perhaps our divine purpose is greater than we could imagine. Perhaps we are meant to embody all the divine spiritual ideals in each of our lives so that when we reach the stars as pathfinders, in our sojourns, we can continue to bring the spirit of love and hope into every opportunity, to be curious to learn more about who we really are, and to persevere with strength and ingenuity.
I have great hope that one day we will be welcomed in the greater creation of the universe as beings who learned that the greatest commandment is to “love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And to take this love out to the stars.
Rev. Arlyn Macdonald is the senior minister of the Spiritual Awareness Center and Dean of the Spiritual Development Institute.