The long and the short of it
NASA has a fascinating mission underway. Ten days ago, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft pushed itself away from the asteroid Bennu to begin a 2.4-billion-mile trip back to Earth. OSIRIS-REx, which is about the size of two large commercial refrigerators, has been hanging out in orbit around Bennu for nearly three years. Bennu is a rocky ball that, if it were set on the ground, would reach a little more than halfway up the Willis Tower in Chicago. The spacecraft won’t get back home until September, 2023, after a total mission duration of seven years.
Those are big numbers. Yet the critical moments in the mission are all quite small. The rocket burns that move it from one trajectory to another typically are just a few minutes. In its main mission of gathering some of the asteroid’s surface material to bring back for study, OSIRIS-REx didn’t even really land. It sort of bounced off the surface, with its sampling arm touching the asteroid for only about five seconds.
Seven years of travel, three years in orbit, mapping and assessing the surface and finding the right place to touch, all for a five-second kiss. That’s the long and the short of it, for OSIRIS-REx.
Last Sunday at St. Paul, many of our high school seniors were present for a Baccalaureate milestone event, recognizing from a faith perspective their achievement in an academic program. In the hour-long milestone, graduates sat with their families and were guided through a series of discussion questions. The topics were not easy, inviting family members to reveal deep joys and painful disappointments, hopes and expectations that are often hard to raise in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Responses were sometimes only a few words; perhaps just a look said it all. One senior was said to have “nearly died” from the strain of the unfamiliar activity, yet the student hung in there.
Such meaningful moments do not happen because we put an event on a schedule. They can happen because the students and their families, their friends in the youth group, and the youth group leaders and mentors have invested years in building trust and relationships. They have had silly moments in games, confusing moments in service projects, bored moments in travel or study, challenging moments in conflict – all sorts of moments that wove the fabric of a community. In that community, even unfamiliar activity can be trusted to be worthwhile, thanks to the confidence that has grown over years, through all sorts of different moments.
In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of the day when “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (15:51-52). Just a few lines later, he assures the community that he will come to visit, but not “just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you” (16:7). As much as he knows that God’s touch can come in the briefest of kisses, he also takes care to build his relationship with the community over time, with growing depth and intimacy.
Perhaps Paul knows that it is commitment and continuity that best prepare us for the moment of grace when it arrives. That is the long and the short of it, with God.