At the time of writing it is approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the first humans to set foot on a natural surface anywhere other than the earth, which took place on 20th July 1969, as I'm sure you are aware. One of my earliest childhood memories is of watching that landing, with my parents, grandparents and great grandmother, who had been born during the reign of Queen Victoria and who, surely, must belong to one of the generations to have seen most obvious change during their lifetimes. It was very late, Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon's surface, in the Sea of Tranquility, at 0256 GMT, nearly 20 minutes after first opening the hatch, so I was very excited to be up. But, if I'm honest, it was all rather a bit dull for me, small grainy pictures not being as remotely interesting to my preschool self as such much more exciting programmes as Thunderbirds, Supercar and Fireball XL5.
Learning more about Apollo 11 though now, of which I'm sure that you have your own memories, I am surprised to learn how much a close run thing it really was. That the landing nearly didn't take place at all, with only 25 seconds' fuel left out of a 13 minute descent, before the abort button would have to be pressed to ensure enough fuel to get back to the Command Module. That it was less than two and a half years since the first Apollo mission ended in disaster, with the fire and loss of all crew before the rocket had even blasted off, on February 21st, 1967 and less than six months since the first manned journey to the moon in Apollo 8, the first time humans had left earth orbit. That the technology used, famously less than that in the iPhone in my pocket, stretched the available science and manufacturing processes of the time to their very limits and was all being used for the first time; indeed the giant Saturn V Rocket remains to this day by some way the largest and most powerful structure to have ever flown.
Yet, by a huge amount of effort, belief and courage, it happened and through it, though many doubted that it could happen at all, let alone before the end of the 1960's, the challenge accepted by NASA from President Kennedy, the limits of what is possible, seemed to have expanded. Through that enlargement we have a bigger picture, of our world, our place in it and our world's place in the universe; the 'Earth Rising' picture of the earth, taken by Apollo 8, was the first glimpse humans had of everything which both existed or had ever existed in human history, and all, as astronaut Jim Lovell said, from the spacecraft, could be blocked out by his thumb.
Expanding the limits of what seems possible and a resultantly bigger picture are, it seems to me, what faith in God gifts us. It's not that the picture the astronauts brought to us was something new, it had been there all along, or at least for the last few billion years; its just that it was suddenly made visible - like a beam of sunlight piercing a through into a darkened room makes visible the little motes of dust, which had been there all along, but which suddenly shimmer and glisten. So faith in God unlocks for us a view of things which had actually always existed, at least as possibilities, but which we hadn't realised were there. Often not without cost, certainly not without doubt and never without our own willing cooperation and, sometimes, great effort - and often also not without some backsliding - but gradually, life enhancingly and increasingly visibly - faith in God transforms lives; ours if we let him.
Why should this be? Well one answer is that is always ready for us, even if we sometimes feel as if we are waiting to glimpse him. Our view of life is crowded and cluttered by so many things that our horizons are as much obscured as limited. But God always has a clear view of us, holding his hand out to us, knocking on the door of our lives and waiting for us to trust in that hand, that open door, that departure on what might seem a long, difficult and frightening journey. Yet I believe that the journey is unfailingly worth it and that actually, we can come to know that for ourselves, as, in time, our journey reveals to us, lets us see, what we had never seen before, but which was always there.
Your friend and vicar