Saturday, November 8, 2008

November, 2008 Cosmic Collisions

            Our family went to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago yesterday and saw the feature Cosmic Collisions. Unlike many planetarium shows, Cosmic Collisions is not a soothing lay-back-and-gaze-at-the-night-sky kind of experience. Instead, Cosmic Collisions grabs visitors and hurls them through time and space to explore the hypersonic impacts that drive the continuing evolution of the Universe. To borrow from the show’s promotional booklet, “This new space show focuses on the full range of collisions, from catastrophic planetary impacts and the merging of massive galaxies to the continual explosions occurring in the center of the Sun and the incessant barrage of small ionized particles in the solar wind ricocheting off Earth’s magnetic field.”
            In other words, it was a show with lots of light, noise and power. I knew my boys would love it; I was less sure of the little girls. What I didn’t expect was the show’s effect on me. The colliding planets, smashing stars and entire galaxies swirling into each other all reminded me of foster care.
            While sitting in my extremely comfortable reclining chair pondering this connection, I did at the same time feel a bit of alarm that I could watch a show whose reach included trillions of stars, billions of years—indeed the enormity of the universe and existence itself—and yet somehow make an analogy so it was all about me. But I put this concern aside because there was nothing I could do about it and I also had to keep an eye on five-year-old Jamie who was whimpering next to me each time a collision seemed imminent.
            “Look! Fireworks!” I whispered in a fake, happy voice as an asteroid seven miles wide crashed into earth sixty-five million years ago.
            In our nearly six years of being foster parents, collision has been a theme for Bill, me, and our foster children. Our current foster daughter, T, has been back and forth between our home and that of her biological father three times. Every time T has been detained from the custody of her parents and brought to our house, two worlds have collided. When abuse, neglect and dysfunction meet with stability and purpose, the meeting point is necessarily a crash because the two ways of living are traveling in opposite directions.   
            Yet the theme of Cosmic Collisions was that every crash, despite the initial destruction, eventually brings about something new. When a Mars-sized body collided with a young Earth four and a half billion years ago, the resulting debris formed our moon. That seven-mile asteroid Jamie was (rightfully) afraid of heated our earth to 500 degrees for an entire hour. This, scientists theorize, caused the extinction of most life, including the dinosaurs, but it also allowed for the remaining life to evolve into today’s world.
             When you’re in the middle of the crash, it’s hard to believe that something good and new is forming. The debris of foster care orbits our family-- endless court appearances; visits from social workers; upsetting behaviors by Teenasia; strained relationships with the biological parents. Yet, yesterday’s show taught me that collision is the way of the Universe. And because I believe God authored the Universe, I must also believe that collision is of God.
            God is not afraid of crashes—witness the spectacular collision between Jesus and religious authorities and the change it eventually ushered in.
            To be a part of God’s Universe then, is to see the collisions in our lives not as travesties we should have been able to swerve around, but rather as the inevitabilities of belonging to a universe that requires collision in order to expand. We are called to both collide and to become new because of our collisions.
            As Teenasia nears her one-year anniversary this third time around, it was a collision late in the show that gave me the most hope. On the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, I watched as two small stars began moving closer and closer together.  Complicated gravitational forces were bringing them toward each other and suddenly the two separate stars touched. The new, rejuvenated star shone so brightly, I could hardly believe it was only a combination of two stars—so different and beautiful did it appear in the night sky. Different and beautiful. Both stars had changed for the better because of the collision.

            And I couldn’t even see the debris.