At a time when space travel is taken for granted, many of us overlook the faith that made possible Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s walk on the virgin dust of the moon half a century ago on July 16,1969.
Even more so, the faith that prompted the first European settlers to found the colonies that became what we now know as the United States of America seems all but forgotten.
Yet the intent of the Thanksgiving holiday (Thursday, Nov. 23rd this year) remains the same as that of the Pilgrims: to show gratitude to the object of that faith, God himself, for his guidance and the rich and amazing blessings that have resulted from that faith.
It was Edward B. Lindaman, at the time an executive with the North American Rockwell Co., who was responsible for putting together and managing the 400,000 men and women in nearly 20,000 businesses and industries which made up the team that worked nearly 10 years to put the first man on the moon.
When our astronauts landed on the moon after a three day, three hour and 45 minute flight of 252,088 miles, the Presbyterian layman told me: “I wanted to give thanks to the Creator whose work space exploration surely is.”
He estimated that out of every five key people working with him three were spiritually committed Christians who viewed the accomplishments in space to have meaning only in terms of faith.
“New adventures in space conquest allow us to rediscover something of the awe, the majesty, the mystery, the wonder, and the enthusiasm the men of the Bible had for their world,” Lindaman said.
Similar views had been expressed to me earlier by the late Wernher von Braun, the scientific wizard of rocketry, at the launching of Apollo 9 when the five F-1 engines that he developed produced nine million pounds of thrust that hurled the six million pounds of the Saturn V rocket into the atmosphere.
(That’s twice as much power as would be generated if all the running waters of North America — that’s every river and stream on this continent — were put through hydro-electric turbines at one time!)
“I believe we have his (God’s) permission and his blessing,”
von Braun said of our space efforts. An Episcopalian, he looked forward to the day “when we have observation stations in outer space to learn far more about the universe.
(Astrophysicists now are looking for “missing Planet Nine” in the dark outer reaches of our solar system.)
“From a closer look at creation, we ought to gain a better knowledge of the Creator and a better knowledge of man’s responsibility to God will come into focus.”
That responsibility to God was uppermost in the minds of the Pilgrims who fled England in 1620 to establish a colony they called Plymouth in ”the New World” where they could be free to worship God in a manner they felt was pleasing to him.
Before disembarking from their ship, the Mayflower, after a rough 67 day journey of approximately 3,730 miles, they entered into a compact agreeing that their efforts were ”for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”
Consequently it was their conviction that the bumper crops they harvested in the early fall of 1621 was the result of God’s blessing and the help of the Wampanoag Indians who welcomed them as an ally against Narragansett and Pequot tribes who had taken much of their land in what now is Massachusetts.
Massassoit, the local leader of the tribe, and his Patuxet interpreter, Squanto (who had become a believer in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord), led a guest list of about 90 Native People who joined in the worship services of thanksgiving and the three or four days of celebrating the harvest.
Four centuries later, most Americans continue the tradition of feast-like meals, sporting events, drinking and dancing with family and friends. But will you be among the dwindling number who make a worship service of thanksgiving a part of your holiday celebration?
Adon Taft was religion editor for 37 of his 48 years as a reporter with The Miami Herald. He taught Social Studies at Miami-Dade Community College and authored the chapters on religion in the three-volume history of the state, ”Florida from Indian Trail to Space Age,” edited by Charlton W. Tebeau and Ruby Leach Carlton Now retired, he lives in Brooksville and can be reached at [email protected]