The Cow Jumps Over the Moon 

When the cow jumps over the moon in the children's nursery rhyme, we do not wonder why the cow falls back to earth and the moon does not.  But until Isaac Newton, no one could explain why the moon stayed up in the sky.  The laws of motion were unknown.  People certainly understood that if you dropped an object, it would fall to the ground.  But there was no concept of gravity or even a word for it.  When Newton published his ideas, learned men dismissed them as a work of the occult.  His characterization of gravity as "action at a distance" was contrary to their understanding of mechanics.  In fact, Newton had no idea what gravity was, nor did he try to explain it.  He just knew it operated according to laws that could be expressed with great mathematical precision.

I was in the fifth grade when the Russians launched their first Sputnik into orbit.  I had not yet been formally introduced to Newton's laws of motion.  But as an avid reader of science fiction, I was already well-versed in the arcana of thrust, orbital speed and free fall.  There was something magical to me about a rocket going so fast it could shut off its engine and keep going forever in orbit around the earth.  If there were people on board, they would feel weightless because they were really falling.  But since their forward speed exactly offset the pull of gravity, they would continually fall around the earth rather than crash into it.

It now occurs to me that grace works in much the same way.  There are certainly those who believe that God's grace smacks of the occult.  It defies explanation, and no one with Newton's grasp of the cosmos has stepped forward to do the math.  Yet grace has some of the same feel to me as orbital mechanics.  Much of the time you feel chained to earth by the pull of gravity.  But then you reach that magical point when the weight of the world is exactly matched by your forward momentum.  Whereas before you struggled to make any progress, now everything becomes effortless.  Your phones calls are returned, parking spaces open up, you are in the zone.  You sense you are serving a purpose that is vastly larger than yourself, even though you may never know what it is.  In such moments of grace, you feel you can shut off your engine and go forever. 

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