Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent

As the leaves change color and begin to fall, mornings become chilly and evenings crisp. Autumn is upon us. It is anticipated even more this year as the last month of the national election campaign approaches.

It would be an overstatement to say the political discourse has been uplifting or inspirational. With little honest exchange of ideas in a civil, much less statesman-like manner, it has been little more than noisy static. Channels of communication that could have turned attention to truly good things have been overwhelmed.

Even amazing, awe-inspiring events lack the “gee whiz” factor and, of late, we take them for granted.

Take for example, Dawn and Curiosity. Dawn is the NASA spacecraft launched in 2007 to rendezvous with two celestial bodies and learn about the evolution of the solar system. It just completed the first part of the mission, traveling 1.7 billion miles to the asteroid Vesta, which it has orbited since last year. Now it is headed another 930 million miles over three years of travel to the planet Ceres. From Earth to a dwarf planet belt via a giant asteroid was largely received with no more excitement than a coast to coast flight via Chicago. We take it for granted.

Curiosity, the Mars rover, is currently roaming the surface of the planet in search of clues for the existence of life. It is sending visual images of the Martian surface with no more “how about that!” than when TV remote allows us to see images from a football game.

The rover is being photographed by an orbiting spacecraft showing its action, like an all-terrain vehicle moving across an Arizona desert. Taking for granted events such as Curiosity’s work stems from these events becoming routine. The reports fail to stir the public imagination.

At one time, during the manned portion of the space program, the suggestion was made that a poet or even a journalist could become part of the crew in order to fully appreciate and express the magnificence of the experience. Astronauts are more scientists and engineers, not known for having a way with words.

The recently deceased first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, illustrated this during an interview when he was asked about the moments prior to his historic flight: “Would you every night, or most nights, just go out quietly and look at the moon? I mean did it become something like ‘my goodness’?”

“No,” Armstrong said, “I never did that.”

This is the time of year that reminds us that, as a society, we can use knowledge and technology to do great things. It is also the time of year when the first of the seasonal gift catalogs arrive reminding us we also can do silly things.

A civilization that nonchalantly can send a craft to the edge of the solar system and send another to the surface of Mars is the same one that produces a TV remote control with a bottle opener.

Finding balance is important.

It may be difficult to find God in holiday gadgets, where creative abilities are used in pursuit of consumerism, such as making something for which there is no need.

Easier, perhaps, is to find God in all things when contemplating the hundreds of centuries and billions of miles in time and distance of the universe.

The world faces “a profound crisis of faith, and a loss of a sense of religion constitutes the biggest challenge for the Church today,” Pope Benedict XVI has said.

“Across vast areas of the earth, faith runs the danger of extinguishing like a flame that runs out of fuel,” he said in reference to why he called for the Year of Faith, which starts in October.

Lacking the “gee whiz” factor in human achievements leads to taking things for granted, but loss of awe in relation to faith leads to much worse.


Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: