Without a doubt, one of the coolest parts of my job is getting a front-row seat for history, and today was an incredible one in that respect. The test area at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is a cradle of exploration — tested here were the propulsion systems that carried the first American into space, the first humans on the moon, and everything from Hubble to the International Space Station.
And now, we’re about to add to that list the core stage that will eventually send humans to Mars. NASA’s Space Launch System has made its own addition to the Marshall test area with two new towers, one of which will test the rocket’s liquid oxygen tank and the other its hydrogen tank.
Pictures don’t do justice to the size of this tower. And as I approached it, I had to remind myself that this gargantuan construct was there not to test the rocket, or even the core stage of the rocket, but one tank of the core stage of the rocket. Seeing how big the stand for that tank is was an awe-inspiring reminder of just how incredible the finished machine will be.
I was recently provided with an advance copy of “Ten Prayers that Changed the World”
by Jean-Pierre Isbouts to review for this blog. Because my wife absconded with the book immediately upon arrival, today’s entry is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt.
When was the last time you prayed a prayer so beautifully worded, so breathtakingly, artistically crafted that as a result of your prayer, the world would be forever changed? Take a moment to think about it. This can’t be just any prayer, now. No simple prayer for sunshine during vacation or for the gas in your car to last a few more days until pay day. Not even one that rendered a profound effect on your life. This has to be one that radically and dramatically changed the lives of countless others both in the world around you and in the world to come, for generations… people you would never meet, people seemingly unrelated to you save that one thing… that one change, that one difference that came about a result of that intimate moment between you and the divine. People would listen to or read the words of your prayer and find themselves inspired, humbled, touched, revolutionized. Changed.
Do you have that memory? Do you have the number of how many times you have prayed like that in your life?
True to its title, “Ten Prayers that Changed the World” by Jean-Pierre Isbouts explores ten prayers, stretching over time from Abraham to Mother Teresa, that somehow altered not only the world of the supplicant but the world for all time. Each chapter consists of a different prayer and most importantly, starts off with the story behind the prayer. Isbouts places the reader right there in the thick of the action. Historical background is seamlessly provided so that the reader understands what is going on and the exact nature of the situation without any feeling of obtrusion to the narrative. If you are a history lover like me, you will appreciate the blend of spirituality and history. (Although my one slight annoyance Isbouts’ historical summations was that I felt he very much glossed over the circumstances and events leading up to and during the Hundred Years’ War between the English and the French in the 14th and 15th centuries. Though I totally understand that he had to condense a very complex situation into a few paragraphs so that a broad audience could understand. And that Joan of Arc, and therefore the French, had to without a shadow of a doubt appear to be in the “right.” That just happens to be one of the time periods that I have researched a good bit about so it’s easy for me to be nitpicky.) I became engrossed each person’s story. I worried with them. I hoped with them. And when it came time for the person to articulate to God their pleas, their hopes, their needs, their thanksgivings—I was right there with them, saying “YES! AMEN! THAT’S PERFECT! GOOD JOB! THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO SAY!”
And their prayers are good. I mean, really good. Beautifully worded. Not a word too much or a word too little.
I can’t pray like that. A good many of my prayers don’t even have words.
For me, the book pushed me to examine my own prayers. When I was little, I thought that when I prayed, I had to use my absolute best grammar, with the most flowery language possible. Maybe with a few thee-s and thou-s thrown in there for good measure. Because isn’t that what God desires? Isn’t that what He deserves? And aren’t the well-worded prayers the ones that God answers? As if I could just craft a prayer good enough, maybe He would hear. Maybe He would answer. As I grew older, I realized that prayer wasn’t about me presenting God with a pretty turn of phrase. It’s not about me and what I can do. I could never plead my case good enough to get anything or change anything. That prayer is about a moment of connection with my God. When I cry out to Him without words, silently pleading with Him to work through me whatever it is that needs to be done because I don’t have the faintest clue, He hears me. When I beg Him to give me whatever it is in my life that He decides I need because I don’t even know what it is I should ask for, He answers me.
The ten people in this book didn’t set out to write a good prayer. Not even a half-decent one. They opened their hearts and their mouths to God and just spoke. Sincere, honest, heartfelt words. Their prayers are not profound because they are exceptional writers. They are profound because the authors, in a vulnerable and exposed time reflected in their words, remind us of ourselves.
So if you are looking for a few of the prayers and stories that altered the course of human history, this is the book to place at the top of your to-read list.
ï Hardcover: 272 pages
ï Publisher: National Geographic (March 1, 2016)
From time immemorial, prayer has provided comfort in our darkest hours, stirred us to action beyond what we thought possible, and shown us the way through seemingly insurmountable challenges. In this engaging tour of world history, author and historian Jean-Pierre Isbouts takes us on an inspiring tour of ten prayers that played a pivotal role in world eventsófrom the divine inspiration of Joan of Arc to Martin Lutherís powerful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”; from†Abraham’s poignant†plea to save his son; from George Washington’s prayerful words to the newly formed American states to the horrors of Auschwitz; from Constantine the Great’s prayer before battle to Gandhi’s deeply moving “prayer of peace.” Ten Prayers That Changed the World delves into the moments in history where faith and prayer intersected with the course of mankind.
Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a bestselling author, historian, and award-winning director of documentary and feature films. A humanities scholar and professor at Fielding Graduate University of Santa Barbara, California, he has published widely on subjects in art, history and archaeology, and directed films for Disney, ABC, Hallmark, History Channel and other studios and networks. He has also produced a broad repertoire of classical music with ensembles in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam.
Find out more about Jean-Pierre at his website.
Driving down to the see the latest progress at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility outside of new Orleans, where welding takes place for the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion crew modules, I was struck by dichotomy.
The event was taking place two weeks before Mardi Gras, and already that spirit was in the air — visitors to the event I was going to were fed king’s cake and received beads as their group identifiers. But then, the spirit of Mardi Gras is never really gone from New Orleans, is it? You think of everything that the name New Orleans evokes, and that’s where we’re building the biggest rocket in history. Again.
I don’t write a lot of poetry (or, you know, for decades, any), but it seemed the best way to capture how appropriate that juxtaposition is.
Only These Bones
The ground too shallow for its dead.
Old bones, old stones;
History creates mystery.
The old world becomes ever new,
But here the new world remains ever old.
strewn all over.
Foreign streets of Bacchus’ own.
Emerald and amethyst and gold.
Here abide vampires and spirits,
In a quarter owned by flesh.
A city challenging the sea.
Winds tear, waters dare,
The buildings rise again.
The storms, looming, relentless,
The city’s heart more relentless still.
A tower taking shape.
Eyes toward unwalked ground.
A city’s history, magick, resolution
Come together in a rocket’s heart.
There is a house in New Orleans
They call the rocket plant…
We met up at a Barnes and Noble, and, out of curiosity, I went over to their search computer, and typed in some names.
Jeff, Jesse J. Holland, Claudia Gray and I were all at Ole Miss within a year or so of each other, and we all had our first books come out during a similar span back in 2007-2008. I, of course, with space history tome Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story; Jesse with Washington, D.C., African American history/tour guide Black Men Built the Capitol; Jeff with a non-fiction look at a unique chapter of publishing in Bohemian New Orleans; and Claudia with YA vampire romance Evernight.
Turns out, if you type all four of our names into the search computer at the Barnes & Noble in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, they currently only have books by one of us in stock. Guess who?
She’s outsold us, her books are in way more everyday venues, and, in an odd thing for me to be slightly jealous of, can be commonly found remaindered, which to me is the ultimate level of authorial success.
And, then, earlier this year, it was announced that she’d be writing one of the first new-continuity Star Wars books pre-The Force Awakens. Like, somebody who worked at my college newspaper is now writing actual, real, canon Star Wars stuff, which is kind of mind-blowing.
So the morals of this story, kids, are:
1) I know some pretty awesome people.
2) Ole Miss produces some pretty awesome alum.
3) The latest from these talented authors, in addition to Gray’s Star Wars book Lost Stars, are Weddle’s southern gothic short story collection When Giraffes Flew and Holland’s The Invisibles, available in early 2016. Collect them all.
4) If you want to be successful as an author, and are debating between history and vampires, always go with vampires.
5) I love Star Wars, and, yeah, the idea of actually getting to be part of the story is unfathomable.
But, then, so is the story I do get to be part of. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Filed under: space, Writing | Tagged: Black Men Built the Capitol, Bohemian New Orleans, Claudia Gray, david hitt, Evernight, Homesteading Space, Jeff Weddle, Jesse Holland, Lost Stars, postaday, skylab, The Invisibles, Vampires, When Giraffes Flew | Leave a comment »
I’ll cede that Christopher Columbus is a historically challenging figure (and apparently was a challenging guy even in his own day), but one also has to cede that he left behind a legacy that has inspired explorers for half a millennia.
Honestly, Columbus Day is usually one of those holidays that I’m grateful for the day off but think little about, but this year it is a little more special to me. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to walk ground that Columbus had walked, and to step foot in water that Columbus had sailed.
Columbus is one of those figures who is so far removed that it’s easy to think of him as a historical figure, a larger-than-life story that’s central to our national creation myths, so the experience of being where he had been — and not as a legend but as a young man — was one of getting a glimpse of the flesh-and-blood man who was Cristoforo Colombo, a very brave and very human individual who changed the world.
The experience was made richer by the fact I was there for a space exploration symposium, gathering with others from around the world united in a desire to sail further into the new ocean of space, to again visit New Worlds.
Regardless of how one feels about this day as a celebration of the past, it should stand as the embodiment of a holiday our calendar other lacks — a celebration of exploration, and a challenge for the future to dare, to sail, to find, and to continue to seek.