FOR THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of years people couldn't see the earth whole—only as much of it at a time as there was between wherever they happened to be and the horizon. For most of them, the question of flatness or roundness must have seemed altogether irrelevant. Either way, it was plainly enormous. Beyond the fields and the mountains there was the sea, and beyond the sea more fields, more mountains. Whatever wild ideas they had about how it came into being or who made it, they knew it had been around more or less forever. Just by looking at it you could tell that—the ancient rocks, the vast deserts. Nothing less than God himself could ever bring it to an end, and God didn't seem to be in any special hurry about it. In the meanwhile, though time and change eventually carried off everybody and everything else, it was as clear as anything was clear that at least the place they were carried off from was for keeps. Spring would follow winter like the ebb and flow of the tides. Life in one odd shape or another would keep going on and on, the old ones dying and the new ones being born.
Then suddenly pictures were taken from miles away, and we saw it at last for what it truly is. It is about the size of a dime. It is blue with swirls of silver. It shines. The blackness it floats in is so immense, it seems almost miraculously not to have swallowed it up long since.
Seeing it like that for the first time, you think of Jesus seeing Jerusalem for the last time. The ass he's riding comes clip-clopping around a bend in the road, and without warning there it is. His eyes fill with tears, as Luke describes it. "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace," he says. "For the days shall come..." (Luke 19:41, 43). The holy city.
The holy earth. We must take such care of it. It must take such care of us. This side of paradise, we are each of us so nearly all the other has. There is darkness beyond our wildest imagining all around us. Among us there is just about enough light to get by.