Facing the Void: Baumgartner meets H.P. Lovecraft

On Sunday night like thousands around the world, I was watching a quite remarkable sight. From twenty four miles above the earth, a lone man had leapt from a small capsule suspended from a helium balloon and plummeted down towards the ground. I missed the moment itself when he hurled himself into the void, our evening service had started by this point. I caught the balloon ascending beforehand and as soon as the service was over managed to return online with a few others to watch the last minute or so as his parachute drifted to the ground with his perfect landing (I can’t jump off a small wall and land so gracefully!) Even without having seen the leap, it was a dramatic moment turning back on. Had he jumped? Had he survived? Did he manage to break the sound barrier? A perceptible quickening of the pulse as the video link kicked in and we worked out what was going on, that the blur on the screen was indeed a living Felix Baumgartner.

Later on, I watched the moment that he slid to the edge of his capsule, teetered on the lip, before propelling himself from it. The images were so striking; the sight of the dark sky beyond him, the curved globe so far beneath him, and empty space above. Before diving, Baumgartner uttered a sentence or two, not so intelligible on the recording. It transpires he said,

“I know the whole world is watching now. And I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to get up really high to understand how small you really are. I’m going home now.”

The fragility of life and the enormity of the universe we live in. One of the masters of writing horror stories, H.P. Lovecraft, knew that the secret to a really disturbing story was not blood and gore, but reminding us of these two aspects which we live much of our lives trying to ignore. He felt that if humanity woke up to the fact that we are small and alone in a massive universe which cares not about us, then our sanity would be deeply shaken. In his writings you can sense he had a vision similar to that of Baumgartner but with less of a sense of the beauty of the earth.

As Christians we would agree with much of these aspects. Psalm103 speaks of our frailty: ‘…we are dust.  The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.’ (Psalm 103:14-16) Psalm 8 talks of our smallness before the vastness of the universe we live in, ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’ (Ps. 8:3-4) Should we then keep our heads down and live in denial of this, or face up to our meaningless? No, the really shocking reality is that despite our frailty and smallness, we are not alone amidst a vast universe, nor are we unloved and insignificant, but God has made us, ‘a little lower than the angels and crowned [us] with glory and honour’ (Ps. 8:5) and, ‘from everlasting to everlasting the [his] love is with those who fear him’ (Ps: 103:17)

Church newsletter article, 21.10.12


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