Changes in plans

Maybe I'm reading too much science fiction...

Tonight I went to a Laurie Anderson concert at MASS MoCA. It was a premiere of brand new stuff, never before performed. Perhaps most fascinating for me was the discovery that when work is new, she needs it written down; her pacing is a little off; she doesn't maintain the usual dry Laurie Anderson drawl throughout. Anyway, she just finished a gig as NASA's first artist-in-residence, so she talked a lot in this piece about space. Maybe that's why, when I got out of the car at my house, I reflexively glanced up.

It's a clear night, and we're about as close to moonlessness as we get. (Wednesday night and Thursday are new moon, Rosh Hodesh Tishri, also known as Rosh Hashanah.) The sky is salted with stars, more of them in my field of vision than I could possibly count. In a great streak across the middle of the sky there are so many stars it looks like fog, or like cloud: I'm looking longways into the spiralling arm of the Milky Way. As many times as I've seen this, it is always breathtaking.

At the end of this upcoming Friday's Torah reading, an angel promises Abraham that his descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky. To me tonight, that sounds like an implicit promise of space travel. So many descendants couldn't fit on this earth and survive: if the children of Abraham will be so numerous, we'll have to establish a home on Mars. (Unfortunately, it looks like the first Orthodox ruling on a halakha of space travel doesn't smile on permanent offplanet habitations.)

Personally, I'd love to see how space travel would influence our liturgy. The ma'ariv aravim prayer blesses God Who, among other things, sets the stars in their appointed paths; imagine the power of saying that prayer in space! Will we recite old blessings for wayfarers when departing for space, or will new brachot for liftoff arise?

I'm reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy now. One of the intriguing things he posits is what he calls the Martian timeslip: the thirty-odd minutes when the clocks stop, between midnight and 12:01, so that the Martian day can be separated into 24 hours like the Terran one is. To me, that sounds like a little taste of Shabbat: a time outside of time. I think space travel could enrich Jewish practice in fascinating ways.

Or maybe I'm just reading too much science fiction. Which reminds bedside reading is calling my name.