John Glenn, the American pilot, astronaut and politician, has died aged 95.
By any calculation, Senator Glenn was surely a hero, and he was of course the first American to make an orbit of the earth in space. To cap it all, he had a very self-deprecating sense of humour. For example, when he spoke about his career in space, he said:
"As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind - every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder."
He was rightly dismissive of a journalist who asked him if he had achieved everything he wanted:
"Just because I'm 77 doesn't mean I don't have a dream."
Senator Glenn was sustained in all that he did by a thoughtful faith in God. He constantly emphasized wonder as a way of deepening his faith in God. The more he saw of the beauty of the cosmos, the more he felt he understood, the more there was to discover.
Speaking on board the Space Shuttle Discovery, in 1998, when he was a respectable 77 and the oldest person yet to travel into space, Glenn said:
"I pray every day and I think everybody should. I don't think you can be up here and look out the window as I did the first day and look out at the Earth from this vantage point. We're not so high compared to people who went to the moon and back. But to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is, to me, impossible. It just strengthens my faith."
And one of his constant themes was the importance of serving others:
"If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest."
Let us thank God today for the life-long witness of Senator John Glenn. Can wonder lead us too to a greater openness to God?
The Dean of Sheffield