I’ve only ever been to the one planet in my life (earth), but I could appreciate the characteristics of the other planets as they played through compositions for each of them. Saturn was said to be the loneliest planet and Mercury was named the ‘Messenger’ planet. There was a familiarity between Earth and the Moon, and as they sang to the farthest reaches of our solar system, as the sun’s rays weaken the music became still in a way and far off. There was a giant sphere hanging above the stage, which was filled with light and visual depictions of the various planets. The music was characteristic of Sufjan Stevens’ recent work, treading the line between traditional lyrical songs and orchestral feeling instrumentals, with fluid duration and structure. The entire evening was mesmerizing and enjoyable.
At one point in the performance, we ran into a foreseeable problem. On this journey through space, counting through nine planets and earth’s moon we came to Pluto. Of course, for everyone who has lived the majority of their lives before 2006, Pluto has been an accepted and memorized member of the planets in our solar system. But Pluto is now technically classified it as a dwarf planet along with Haumea, and Makemake and others in the Kuiper belt. Stevens broached the topic and the audience waited expectantly for what they would say. There was no song for Haumea or Makemake, but he announced they had written a song for Pluto. The auditorium, filled with people whose childhood astronomy charts had included Pluto, suddenly cheered and applauded the dignity he was being given as a planet. It was at that moment I felt very small.
In this middle of a cosmic tour of our neighborhood, celebrating familiar names and giant spheres everything seemed ostentatious and exciting. When it came to Pluto’s introduction however, I became very aware that we were just people, in a room, watching coloured lights on a ball, listening to sounds that performers were making, dedicating them to orbs we have never visited and applauding the disregard for modern astronomical classifications in favour of our childhood familiarity.
This music and these ideas and the very nature of our imaginative and theoretical brains allow us to transcend our physical limits. We are people who live beyond the world. But it doesn’t take all that much to remind us that we bound to the ground. A sickness, an injury, when someone dies, a car crash, failing an exam or getting a parking ticket or seeing the incongruence in a celebration of the celestial – before long we are reminded that we are small beings on a rock.
That is, until we hear the song that God sings to us. From ‘out there’ beyond Pluto or time or space there is a calm and urgent call. It’s music about bigger things. But it isn’t just a piece that gives us the feeling of being caught up with the planets and it doesn’t just cater to our childish preferences, but it summons us to come be a part of the great Reality. Jesus spoke to men of this world and said to them “the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father”. And as he declares that they are loved, he assures them that the end goal of this love is that they will be with him, beyond the world. The music of the invitation of God is a melody that strongly proclaims a transcendence that isn’t a matter of metaphysics, but is hot, bright, living truth.
As I sat there, giving my own applause for a dwarf planet that has no concept of our categories, music, or appreciation, I want thankful that this was not the high point. I was grateful to remember that outside of this room and after this night that there was something very great that I was a part of. And I was no longer clapping a man for validating Pluto with a song, but I was applauding the fact that whether my feeling of rapture came or went that Jesus has invited me to be loved by him and to be with him, beyond the world.
Sam Manchester is a Sociology graduate from The University of Sydney, currently working in a cafe and studying theology.
Sam's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-manchester.html