Take time to gaze at stars, ponder miracle of life

We all suffer from a type of spiritual shortsightedness.

That is, we have difficulty seeing the big picture, and the consequence of that difficulty lurks behind all the problems that currently beset us — war, religious terrorism, racism, homelessness, and the debates about climate change, same-sex marriages and health care.

Let me explain.

A useful exercise on a clear night is to arise in the wee hours and venture outside to study the stars. Our ancestors routinely studied the stars, and no doubt the starry sky formed the backdrop for numerous stories told by our ancestors around a fire.

In our modern world, we have been lured away from this nighttime activity by our preference for TV, the Internet and social media. We can gain much from these sources of information, but there is also spiritual loss.

The irony of this is that with exploration by space probes we have leaped forward in our knowledge of the vastness of what is in the night sky. No generation before ours has known more about what we see in the night sky and what lies beyond what we can see.

Yet perhaps no generation before us has so completely turned away from the night sky for more earthbound matters, such as sports, situation comedies, online poker and Twitter.

So how does this failure to gaze at the stars lead to spiritual shortsightedness? I contend that if someone would look at the night sky long enough, that person would eventually realize that we earthlings have, as yet, discovered no other star or planet with intelligent life.

To consider the universe with this thought in mind should lead us to pause in awe, as we realize that every living thing on tiny planet Earth, from the simplest microbe to the most advanced mammal, has won the equivalent of a cosmic lottery. And as humans, we who have minds that can contemplate this amazing truth have won the top prize in this cosmic lottery.

We are the only beings in the entire universe, as far as we know, who are breathing, standing, walking down a street, and capable of thinking this thought: “Everyone I pass is a miracle.” No one precisely like each of us has ever lived before or will ever live again in the future. Each of us is a one-shot miracle living a miraculous life on a miraculous Earth.

The tragedy is that we so easily miss this miracle that we are part of. That isn’t my original thought; that is ancient religious wisdom.

If we pondered the miracle of life, we would find it almost impossible to go to war, for adversaries would see each other as equal miracles. We would find it unimaginable that we would deliberately destroy this planet, this amazingly welcoming host. We would find it too painful to pass by a homeless person, for that would be to pass by a miracle as unique as ourselves.

We would find it beyond belief that so many human beings are dying of hunger, lack clean water or are living this day in refugee tents. And we would find it criminal that access to education, opportunity and basic health is available so unevenly in our world.

Back to thinking about the starry sky. For the first time in human history, we can now see close-up photos of Pluto, the one-time planet farthest from the sun in our solar system. I recommend that everyone check out these amazing photos on the Internet.

Don’t be surprised if you feel awe and some pride at the capacity of the human mind to send a space probe to capture these images and transmit them back to us. But before you turn off your computer, bring up a photo of our Earth and compare our planet with cold and lifeless Pluto.

Blessed and fortunate are we who live within this miracle. May we live so that our descendants 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 years from now can know this same miracle.