I did one of the dumbest things of my seminary career during the summer of 2013. I took a summer course on not one but two biblical languages.
As if ancient Hebrew and Greek weren’t difficult on their own, I said “hold my beer” to my sanity and now have the C on my transcript to prove it.
That same summer I traveled quite a bit for work, and one particular week I found myself in Los Angeles. I stayed with a friend from home – Diya and her roommate who was also in graduate school.
Over sushi and Thai beer one night, the three of us and some of their colleagues kvetched about balancing work and grad school; appreciating the chance to hone our skills while also figuring out how we were going to make paper deadlines.
I knew I was in the presence of smart, amazing people when one of her friends casually mentioned getting to operate Curiosity that day – you know, the robot exploring Mars.
Dinner ended early as people had to get back to homework, papers, studying rocks found on Mars, etc. I had four and a half hours to finish a paper on making sense of ancient scriptures and the importance of learning the ancient languages in which they were written.
During a short break, Diya, Jessica and I ordered some food from McDonalds, and over fries they asked exactly what someone did with a Master of Divinity.
“Plenty,” I said, when they asked why I planned on doing with it – maybe work in a church or possibly help others make sense of these stories and why they matter to us now.
I explained how I was hoping to bring new life out of old stories we skim through year after year, suggesting that maybe I could help find a new spot of light we’ve missed before.
When I asked Jessica what she planned on doing with her degree in geology, she looked up from her laptop and said, “I want to be an astronaut.”
Four years later, I saw her picture on the cover of People Magazine while waiting at the checkout line at a Publix. The cover was a group picture of the few to join the 2017 Astronaut Training Class.
Fast forward to April 2022, and Jessica Watkins is currently serving as a mission specialist at the International Space Station.
To recap: over McDonald’s french fries, I wrote a paper attempting to make sense of ancient texts while sitting next to Jessica, who is now the first Black woman to go to space on a long duration space mission to study the stars.
To see a woman’s lifelong dream come to fruition in historic and important ways leaves one feeling empowered and full to the brim of curiosity of what can happen when you see yourself represented in spaces not created for you.
If a mountaintop experience can put the grandeur of earth in perspective, I cannot begin to imagine what seeing mountains as ruffles and wrinkles from space is like.
And while I stare into the skies looking at the very stars that Jessica Watkins can see a bit closer, I cannot help but rage at the hypocrisy of a country that can praise a woman going to space and yet keep women stuck in unsafe and harmful environments.
This week, POLITICO published a leaked opinion written by Justice Alito that strongly suggests that Roe v Wade will be overruled; leaving people who are of birthing ability left anxious and fearful of what the actual Supreme Court decision will be later this summer.
There’s much to unpack on the long fight to overturn Roe that has brought us to this point: The hypocrisy of the religious right after losing the segregation battle, states essentially eliminating comprehensive reproductive and health care policies overnight, the intentional work of packing courts with conservative judges who would guarantee the end of Roe.
And this does not begin to touch on how abortions will still be available to those with means and resources – often white and rich folk – leaving many women and queer folks of color to figure out other unsafe options.
The currently impossible barriers and work seems endless and urging people of faith to act now almost seems trite.
But I think of the Psalter and its songs and poems that not only convey joy and awe of the creator of the universe, but also grief and anger so intimate that it reads as if the psalmist herself is eye to eye with the Creator demanding providence, demanding justice.
In these impossibly grief-filled moments, I think of Jessica among the stars, eye to eye with the universe and seeking to make sense of it, while you and I stand here attempting to make sense of the world around us.