finding love and wonder on pluto

When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by science, especially astronomy. I was the nerdier kind of kid who preferred reading books to kicking a ball in the playground, and so, I would hole up in the library and gather up all the books I could find about stars, planets, the universe, and more. At that time, exploration of the solar system was still just beginning. Humanity had walked on the moon and back. Probes had been launched even further, landing on the surfaces of Mars and Venus, sending back the very first images of other planets. More probes had been launched at the other planets, sending back to Earth the very first snapshots of these other worlds: the sun-hugging Mercury, and the gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Reading about these newly explored worlds sent my mind on journeys of its own, journeys of awe and wonderment.

And yet, there was still more to this journey. In the pages of every book that chronicled the sums of our knowledge of the planets, one section still remained a mere footnote, a tantalizing mystery. Pluto, the last and farthest planet (as far as anyone was sure at the time), was a mere speck on a photographic plate, twinkling in the night sky as would any star—except that it moved. We knew it was there, but its great distance from Earth meant that it would surely remain unknown for a very long time. Who, after all, would ever travel that far, through all that nothingness, far above the ecliptic—the plane of the solar system—to snap a picture of this, the tiniest planet?

The New Horizons mission, then, is somewhat of a dream come true—the fulfillment of a long-cherished hope, and the continuation of that long journey of awe, of wonder and discovery. It allows us to fill in a blank in our knowledge of the universe. For those of my generation—who were taught that Pluto was a planet (although there’s nothing particularly wrong with being considered a dwarf planet, either)—this mystery cried out especially loud for resolution. The beautiful thing, of course, is that now that we have pictures, now that we have all this knowledge and data, we become acutely aware of how much more there is to discover. The wonder doesn’t disappear—instead, it builds. Our thirst for learning kicks in, and we want to know more. And in time, we will.

as I pick myself back up

It’s been a while since I’ve spent much time looking after this blog. No doubt there are still people out there reading, whether they’re subscribed by email or RSS, or follow on Facebook, or simply check back every now and then out of curiosity or nostalgia.

It’s been a tumultuous time for the owner of the world’s longest-running Bahá’í blog (if it hasn’t been stripped of that title due to the succession of hiatus after prolonged hiatus). Things started getting busy around the end of 2010. Life started getting in the way of writing, you know, in the way it does. Successive tests descended. Things which were once clear became muddied and murky, as the hand of providence stirred up the water of the ocean of life. They say that in that kind of muddy water, the beautiful lotus will bloom, resting calmly upon the water, opening up its petals and offering itself to the sky.

I can’t really say that the tests have ended yet—nor can I say that I’ve reached that perfect state of calm—but what I can say is that there is something of a growing sense of clarity budding somewhere deep within. Things are clearer, while still being unclear. I am—and we are—slowly learning how to draw from that sacred quiet space within our hearts the living water of certitude.

There is so much to fear in the world today, so much anger, hatred, instability and chaos. And yet, there is also the evidence of a growing, collective movement of humanity towards something much, much greater and more beautiful. Something that looks like kindness, and courage, and justice, and love, and patience, and perseverance, and generosity, and sacrifice, and service. Every day, we pick our side: Shall we advance towards a day of despair, or one of hope? O Great Spirit, give me the strength to choose hope today, to love and to serve Thy creatures.

So, yes, it’s been a tumultuous time, and most of the time I’ve simply felt too confused and exhausted to spend time sharing quips and queries or telling the little stories of my life. I dare to cherish the hope that this time of crisis is coming to a close, and that victories lie ahead. But I must be humble, and remember my place: A mere gnat that only aspires to become an eagle. Sorry. I know this sounds cryptic, and I hate to be one of those cryptic bloggers. The gist of it is that I’m feeling a little better nowadays, now that things have become a little less chaotic. But big things are in store in the coming years. Big changes, big growth, big challenges, and hopefully big adventures worth telling stories about. Maybe I’ll be blogging those too in a little while. For now, I’m off to rest and meditate a little. Greetings and glad-tidings to you and yours, dear friends.

ayyam-i-ha and the fasting season

It’s a busy time of year for Bahá’ís, no matter where they are. The joyous festival of Ayyam-i-Há is taking place, a festival of fellowship, generosity, and hospitality. The Bahá’ís in Da Nang have been busy with a campaign of home visits to elderly members of the community. Tonight, Quynh, Kiên and I gathered together with them at a fun musical celebration, and tomorrow we’ll be doing some visits of our own in our neighbourhood, and cutting out some Ayyam-i-Há decorations with some of the local kids.

dawn of a new dayTomorrow evening comes the Feast of Loftiness, which kicks off the 19-day-long Bahá’í Fast, during which Bahá’ís from the ages of 15 to 70 years abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise ’til sunset. The Fast comes to an end with the celebration of Naw-Rúz on March 21st. Falling on the spring equinox, Naw-rúz is a celebration of revival, renewal, and springtime, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Fasting is a period of preparation for this springtime, during which we not only fast physically, but pay special attention to our spiritual life as well, in order to come into a new year with our souls refreshed and strengthened.

Interested in finding sunrise and sunset times for the Bahá’í Fast? Check out the list of Bahá’í Fasting Times for 2014, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa (for the folks back home).

rear this little babe

Quote

Please help us welcome baby Kiên to the physical world!
A wonderful journey awaits…
kiên

O God! Rear this little babe in the bosom of Thy love, and give it milk from the breast of Thy Providence. Cultivate this fresh plant in the rose garden of Thy love and aid it to grow through the showers of Thy bounty. Make it a child of the kingdom, and lead it to Thy heavenly realm. Thou art powerful and kind, and Thou art the Bestower, the Generous, the Lord of surpassing bounty.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá

dear kiên

ultrasound picture of a beautiful babyMẹ Quỳnh wants me to write you a few words to let you know how things were before you were born.

We saw you for the first time when we were in Da Nang, Vietnam. That’s where your mom was born, so it’s a special place for all of us. One of your uncles is a doctor who helps parents see babies before they’re born, and he helped us see you. You were small, but you jumped and moved around a lot. So we gave you a nickname, Tôm nhảy—or just Tôm for short. From the first time we saw you, we loved you. The first time we prayed for you, we cried—not because we were sad, but because we were so happy you were there. We felt as though God had given us a very precious gift: the gift of your presence.

As you grew up inside your mom’s womb, you took up more and more space, and her belly got bigger and bigger. We were so happy, because we knew someone we loved—that’s you—was in there. You were nice, snug and warm inside her womb, even when it was cool outside. We could feel you when you kicked your mom’s belly. You may not remember all the kicking you did, but you did it a lot. You kicked when you were hungry, when you didn’t have enough space, and at other times. Your mom says you tickled her sometimes.

Soon after you began to grow in your mom’s womb, we met a wonderful lady, a midwife. That’s someone who helps babies be born into the world outside the womb. She was very helpful and loving, and she helped us listen to your heartbeat. It gave us so much joy to hear your beating heart. The midwife introduced us to a friend who helped us see you again, only this time you were much bigger. You still moved around a lot, and you looked like you were folded in two, with your feet near your head—like you were doing yoga.

We prayed for you every night, asking God to help you grow up well. You often kicked when we said prayers, so we knew you were paying attention. Every day we would talk to you, and play music for you to listen to. Sometimes we would sing prayers to you, too. They say that music helps babies to grow well and uplifts their souls. Someday, when you grow up, I hope you sing for your children in the same way, so that they grow up well. Your family living far away would call us up every day to hear how you were doing, and they prayed for you too. In fact, there were many people who prayed for you before you were born—people living in many different places, near and far. With all their hearts they asked God to fill your life with blessings, happiness and love.

As time passed and you grew bigger, we prepared the way for you to be born into the big, bright world outside the womb. We learned all about how to take care of you, feed you, wash you and clothe you. It was a lot of work for us, but we trusted that God would help us take care of you and provide everything you would need. We moved into a cozy apartment surrounded with big old trees and a lovely pond. Lots of friends and family helped us get everything ready for you, because they love us, and they love you too. Just like us, they want you to be happy, healthy and comfortable as you take your first steps into this big world.

Soon it’ll be time for us to meet you and introduce you to this beautiful world. We’re looking forward to it so much: seeing your first smile, your first steps, your first words. You will have developed everything you need for this world in the womb, and in this new world you will develop everything you need for the next one. And we will pray together with you every day, just as we did before you were born.