Darkness on the face of the deep

Glancing at our televisual entertainment box this morning, I saw the following mentioned, as part of a feature on the CBS morning show: Twenty years ago, on December 24th, 1968, there was a special broadcast from NASA’s Apollo 8, which was the first manned mission to escape the Earth’s orbit and enter the orbit of the Moon. It was then the most watched TV broadcast that had ever taken taken place. While those in the spacecraft and those watching at home saw Earth rising over the Moon in the void of space, the astronauts took turns reading from the Bible. They read the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis.

As detailed on NASA’s website (where you can also access multimedia recordings) it went like this:

Astronaut William Anders speaking:

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you”.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Astronaut Jim Lovell:

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Astronaut Frank Borman:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

At age one, I missed out on watching this live, but it is a very great thing that it lives in history and can be so easily relived now thanks to the internet. I imagine at the time that the reading of scripture seemed an entirely appropriate and moving thing to most watching in America. I also imagine that even most of those without belief in that scripture would have appreciated the enormous poetry of the moment. It was the sparking of a grand connection through time: the arc of the orbiting twentieth-century spacecraft intersecting with the ancient Hebrew scribes and with the deepest thoughts and yearnings of this creature called man.


Too soon one finds oneself wondering whether anything like this could take place today. Not that I think, necessarily, that today’s astronauts are not God-fearin’ folk, but rather that the powers-that-be would automatically rule out bringing the Bible into anything, lest anyone’s sensibilities and world-view be offended. Wouldn’t it be likely to ignite a lawsuit today, a “separation of church and state” issue, since NASA is a federal agency?

And if, as I suspect, that’s true, then it’s one measure of what’s been lost to America since 1968 in terms of such things as identity, faith, the simple desire for blessing, and only God knows what else (literally).

Not that it’s been completely lost, mind you, but it’s clearly been in retreat.

Below, from YouTube, is a very nice 2007 performance of Spirit On The Water, by Bob Dylan.

Spirit on the water
Darkness on the face of the deep
I keep thinking about you baby
I can’t hardly sleep

I’m traveling by land
Traveling through the dawn of day
You’re always on my mind
I can’t stay away

I’d forgotten about you
Then you turned up again
I always knew
That we were meant to be more than friends

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