Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Humanist Pilgrimage to Mauna Kea

I went on a spiritual pilgrimage last week. A Humanist pilgrimage.
While visiting Hawai’i I got the chance to go the summit of Mauna Kea to see the astronomical observatories located there and it was a deeply moving experience for me. I just wish I had been better dressed for it. There are seven observatories on Mauna Kea which are run and supported by countries from North America, Asia, and Europe for the purpose of peering outside this little planet of ours.

Out of the entire world, Mauna Kea has been deemed to be the best spot on Earth for astronomical observation. There are also big telescopes in Chile, but Mauna Kea is generally judged Number 1. This is the one place in all the world where the people of Earth come together to try to figure out the answers. That is a powerful idea. All of the big cosmic questions about the universe, its origins and destiny, and our place in it are addressed here. Where did we come from and where are we going? The eternal human need to know, to wonder, and explore finds expression in those massive telescopes. Our connection to the rest of the universe is underscored on that summit.

The whole way up the mountain I was so excited. We were going to the best place to see the stars. Metaphorically, it seemed like the place closest to the rest of the universe, closest to the unknown, closest to creation. The wind blew so hard at the summit that we didn’t stay long, but the drive up and down the mountain was unforgettable. The view was absolutely spectacular and I only worried about our driver running us off the road a few times. At some point halfway up I realized I was on a religious pilgrimage. This journey was every bit as loaded with meaning for me as other holy sites are for their own adherents. This spot was sacred for me.

People of every religious faith I can think of have sites considered holy, places where believers travel and sometimes gather to grow closer to their faith. If ever there was a place for Humanists do the same, Mauna Kea was it for me. There are no shrines or temples, just telescopes that stand as monuments to international cooperation and the undying human need to know what is out there. They stand as testimony to the idea that answers are knowable and that we should continue to strive for them. There is an amazing universe out there beyond our globe, and our tiny place in that vast network is so awe inspiring that I don’t need a belief in the supernatural to feel humbled and connected there.

The Hawai’ians have long considered Mauna Kea sacred for their own reasons. I am happy that they share their sacred mountain with the rest of the human race, and with me.

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