Cheer up, Captain Kirk! There’s hope for us yet

by | Apr 22, 2023 | Creation, Pop Culture

On October 13, 2021, 91-year-old Star Trek actor William Shatner traveled into space on a Blue Origin space shuttle. His experience was not at all what he expected. Instead of finding colorful lights from the stars, as seen in his series or in modified images from telescopes, he only saw total darkness and felt fear and pain. The contrast he perceived between “the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below” filled him with sadness as he considered the destruction we do to it.

Shatner’s feelings are understandable and, to many, even relatable. Going out of oneself can help give a new perspective to truly appreciate what one has. St. Ignatius offers us a way of gaining this perspective without boarding a spaceship. He gifted us with the Spiritual Exercises, which are broken down into four experiences known as weeks. 

From the first week, the exercitant -the person who does the Exercises- withdraws from his daily life so that, from a distance, they can consider their world from St. Ignatius’s First Principle and Foundation: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.” 1 So often, the essential things of life get taken for granted, but they become clear once distance is taken.  From this distance, we can gain indifference over the details of our lives and our world and freedom to choose the axis on which it really should turn.

Moments of crisis are also opportunities to remember and reprioritize the essential things. And certainly, as William put it, “there is no planet B.” Taking distance does not mean running away from problems to avoid seeing and suffering them. This is not a solution because the moment will come when there will be no other place to run. Our common home is in danger, and we must not take it lightly. But it’s amazing how many people, when discussing these real and serious issues, approach it from Shatner’s doomsday mindset. Many are filled with anxiety and dread when pondering about war, destruction, and injustice. Some feel that they have inherited a precarious situation and have a responsibility to find solutions. They sense the proximity of non-existence and feel powerless.

The first week of the Spiritual Exercises allows us to focus on these serious realities in our broken world and place ourselves within it. Not only is it an opportunity to see and mourn the loss and destruction around us but also to realize that we are partly responsible, due to sin, for the damage that is being done to our communities, to the Earth, and to ourselves. In the first week, we can do the serious work of looking intently at what otherwise we might rather ignore, to the point of seeing that beyond the darkness around and in us is the loving gaze of Jesus that sees us as we are, forgives us, and is always with us. 

No matter where Shatner looks, he can only see doom and gloom. But the truth is, although he does not perceive the light of the sun and the stars in space, the Earth still owes its warmth and life to them. His look is “from the outside” of Earth, but he has forgotten that he is a part of what he contemplates. It is good to remember that each one of us is Earth. We are nature. His look reflects the current inner state of many who have lost a sense of what it means to be “human in the world.”

In the second week of the Exercises, we are invited to contemplate creation, just as the Trinity sees us from above. When God looks upon humanity, there is clear acknowledgment of the sin, injustice, death, and pain in our world. But unlike William, who only observes emptiness and darkness, God feels intimately attached to all of creation, and the response of the Trinity is one full of courage: “Let us work the redemption of the human race.” 2 Immediately afterward, the exercitant is invited to contemplate the biblical scene of the incarnation and hears Mary’s courageous response, her yes to God’s plan. We become witnesses of God becoming human and entering into the story of humanity as one of us. It is in the second week that we have the opportunity to recover the sense of being human in a broken world by looking at the way God did so.

God invites us to walk on in the world in his own way: from simplicity, humility, and service. He calls us to return to Earth to face the suffering and evil no longer with dread, pessimism, and fear but with courageous and hopeful solidarity. And so, we walk the third week of the exercises with Jesus, united to the sufferings of his passion and death, out of love for him and without defeatist resignation.

Because Shatner is unaware of the way that God is also looking and acting upon the Earth he beheld from space, his attention is skewed towards how each day brings about further destruction to it. Mary is full of grace and has a rich relationship of intimacy and trust with God, built on knowing that the Lord never abandons her or her people. Because of this, she is able to see and rejoice over how each day, through her son, the Earth is being enriched by the resurrection of a new creation. Looking at the many challenges that we are called to recognize and the answers that we are asked to give to care for the Earth and one another, the Spiritual Exercises invite us to take on the gaze of our Creator and give an unwavering and courageous response like that of Mary’s, contributing to the building up of the kingdom that is already at hand. Instead of giving into narcissistic pessimism, it is time to place our lives in imitation of Jesus.


Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash.

  1. Sp. Ex. 23
  2. Sp. Ex. 107

Pablo Velasquez, SJ   /   All posts by Pablo