In the Netflix series named Away, five astronauts are sent to Mars. The crew of Atlas I are sent on a very dangerous and never-done-before mission. They are experts from different backgrounds and cultures, ranging from an American commanding astronaut, Russian engineer, Chinese chemist, Indian medical doctor, and a Ghanaian-British botanist. They all had their different unique skillset and stories, as well as their struggles. Nevertheless, there is one character that stands out in this series for me, especially since he manifests a deep sense of faith.
Dr. Kwesi Weisberg-Abban is a world-renowned botanist who is sent on the mission to plant and establish earth-like life on Mars. The series reveals that he was adopted by a Jewish British couple. In the beginning, Kwesi was very reserved and closed up because his real, biological parents died in a tragic death. He was resentful of the loss. Even though his adopted parents tried their best to love him, the young boy did not open up. Furthermore, he was very reserved and hesitant about their faith-centered life. He could not understand why these people would believe in God who allowed and permitted his parents to die! What could this so-called “God” do for him?!? Nevertheless, they never gave up on him; his adopted parents continued to love and care for him.
His adopted father shared with him how he, too, came to the faith because he saw how much his wife loved him. As a refugee, he came to England with nothing and met his wife. She became a good friend to him and cared for him deeply. Her faith shines forth and moves him to embrace the faith as well. Even though his reasoning was a bit more humanistic, understood that his personal notion or understanding of God is more along the line as a transcendental manifestation and expression of human trust and unity, he comes to believe because of his own wife’s strong faith in God’s faithfulness. As the result, Kwesi takes on the strong faith of his adopted mother while embraces his foster father’s love for botany.
As a man of deep faith who loves science, he was first treated with suspicions by his own teammates. They make fun of him when he prays, but his faith shines forth in times of trials, mishaps, and challenges that arise throughout the mission. He is level-headed, humble, and very kind in times of need, too. Therefore, Kwesi slowly wins the heart of his teammates because of his balanced approach, not being a religious fanatic or simply forcing his faith on others. He prays by himself and allows his faith to show forth through his very own words and actions. At the end of the series, even the most skeptical and doubtful person, Lu, the Chinese chemist, asks him to lead them into prayer before they begin their descent into the Martian orbit.
The character of Kwesi in this short Netflix series shows forth, I believe, what we are called to do as believers. Too oftentimes, we have allowed falsely pious, self-centered righteousness and extremism to be the vocal, biased and ignorant image, definitive misunderstanding or misrepresentation of faith in the secularized world. We have allowed those who speak the name of God on their lips to be vocal and outspoken their very own agenda-driven, political, or self-righteous views instead of truly allowing our own beliefs to be enlivened humbly, kindly, and faithfully through personal actions, words, and deeds. Simply put, we have rashly, cheaply, and defensively allowed ourselves to be vocal, expressive, but nothing more than mere empty voices and sensationally appealing matters that point to our very own selves instead of God! Faith is only real, not when it attracts attention to its own self, when things go our ways, or when we stand on a pedestal to condemn others to justify our very own images but in the very humbling acts of entrusting ourselves to the faithful and persevering love of God and others.
When the ship is about to lose oxygen capacity and they have to abandon their living quarters, everyone else grabs what is humanly and sentimentally important to them, but Kwesi grabs his religious items — the yarmulke and Tanak (Sacred Scriptures). As a man of science, he is respected and very good in his scientific competency and skills, but he is also able to put his trust in God with his very own faith. In his prayers, this man of science and faith always open with words of gratitude, then lifting up his petitions and needs, but always end with the call to trust in the Almighty who saves, redeems, protects, cares, and understands His people in their times of need.
Furthermore, as Catholics, we are taught that faith and reason — fides et ratio — do not contradict or stand at odds with each other as our (false) extreme religious or secularistic world would like to present. Of course, there are things that cannot be understood by science or human reason alone, but we, who are made in the image and likeness of God, is able to use our reason and intellect to understand the real and holistic matters of this world. Our intellect helps us to enrich our very understanding of God‘s own beautiful creation, its mysteries, and how He has providentially cared for us beyond our imagination. When we are able to see how grand this universe and how small we are in comparison to this ever-changing and expanding creation, we should be in awe of God‘s own love for such a small part of the overall creation.
Our earth is nothing more than a very small speck in the grand scale of the whole (estimated) 30-billion-plus galaxies (that are able to be captured by the current, limited technology right now), yet He knows each and every one of us by name! Our God loves us so much that He never abandoned us, even when we turned away from Him because of our pride, sinfulness, and arrogance trying to live our very own lives, agendas, and priorities. He never left us even when we think that our feeble, finite, and limited minds can grasp the eternal, transcendental, and infinite wisdom and providence of the Almighty. He never gave up on us even when we pouted, blamed, cursed, or pushed Him away when we do not get our ways or when we think that we deserve more than what He has always given and blessed us beyond measures. In spite of our selfishness, prideful arrogance, limited comprehension, and ingratitude at times, God continues to care and provides for us. Therefore, it is up to each and every one of us to humble ourselves and allow our eyes to be opened and horizons expanded as to see the grandeur beauty of His own providential care, merciful love, and unimaginable compassion toward us.
In our very humanistic and feeble understanding, we tend to think that things have to go our ways, able to be calculated and understood according to our limited sensual, quantifiable, or gratifying measurements. However, if we can understand everything that God has planned for us, we would have to be God Himself, and that is impossible! Even with our best intentions and desires, our intellect will fall short and that is where personal, faith-centered, intimate, and loving trust in His love for us is so important. Even though our human and physical senses cannot comprehend or compute what it means to be loved by Him, we can allow our spirit and soul to teach us that intimate and personal knowledge of Him who has loved us into being. Our intellect can help us see and understand many things, especially how can we know and able to comprehend so much in light of how little we are, but it cannot be arrogant in thinking that everything has to fit in its limited and finite capacity. Faith seeks deeper and selfless understanding, and our intellect strengthens our personal and intimate faith if we do not make ourselves our own little gods, centers of the universe, and criteria of all judgments.
The greatest virtue in the life of faith and search for knowledge is, therefore, humility. When we are humble, we are able to learn without being puffed up, know without being arrogant, comprehend without thinking that we know it all, and especially being fine with not having everything our ways or being control of all matters. When we are humble, we are able to see how much our intellect can enrich and expand our understanding in the grand scheme of God‘s beautiful and loving creation, hence being able to be moved and filled with wonder and awe because of that essential childlike faith instead of the egocentric childish selfishness. What can faith offer us? Many things that we cannot see, touch, taste, hear, sense, or grasp with quantifiable understanding and limitations. What can intellect offer us? Many things, too, as to know that we are made in the image and likeness of God, endowed with reason and the desire to understand greater and beautiful things, especially things that are transcendental, eternal, and everlasting from the very own heart of God who has created all and endows us His very own love.
Therefore, let us not be afraid to embark on the journey toward greater understanding with both faith and reason. May our intellect shows us that there are many things to learn and appreciate in our very own world, interwoven in the beauty of creation, filled with wonder and awe so that it leads us to deeper gratitude, trust, humility, and perseverance in knowing that great things are in store for us at the end of this earthly journey. If we can see how beautiful is this world right now, and how much God has loved us in spite of our failures and limitations, we should desire to be faithful so we can taste and see the transcendental and everlasting beauty of eternal life with Him. If we can see the great joy He has in store for us, not with the limited human years or worldly measurements but with our spiritual senses and connections, we would and should desire to do everything to be faithful and persevere until the end as to spend eternity with the One who loves us beyond our understanding, comprehension, and imagination. For sure, this is what our real understanding of life and true faith in God offer us!
— (The picture of the character “Kwesi Abban” is taken from the Away TV series by True Jack Productions, 6th & Idaho, Refuge Inc., and Universal Television) —