It was Christmas Eve, 1968, when the above photo, “Earthrise,” was taken by the crew of Apollo 8. The image caught astronaut Frank Borman by surprise. They were taking photographs of the moon when he happened to turn and look out the window behind him: “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up! Wow, that is pretty.”
Joseph Campbell spent his lifetime studying world religion and mythology. He compared symbols and stories from cultures across time and geography. His insights and articulate expression brought fresh meaning to the biblical stories I was raised on. My childhood in the Christian church was not negative, but in adulthood the mythology was losing its meaning. Bill Moyers’ 1988 PBS series of interviews with Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth,” literally changed my life. They instigated several years of personal study on such themes.
Campbell pointed to the photo above as the symbol for our time. We can find meaning in any myth if we interpret it symbolically and not literally, but symbols are rooted in their cultures and this one is rooted in ours.
The rate of change in communication and transportation that has taken place in my lifetime (let alone in the lifetimes of my seniors) is unparalleled. These advances challenge us to dissolve the artificial boundaries that divide us.
Earthrise doesn’t need my menial explanation, because as a true symbol of our time, it speaks to us in a primal way all by itself. We feel it in our guts. If we pause for moment to ponder its full implications, we are moved to tears.
Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti wrote the following beautiful words after witnessing the photo:
“What are you doing Earth, in Heaven?
Tell me, what are you doing, Silent Earth?”
– Lorena Griffin
The Words of Wisdom? is a publication of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.