Holding Fast to the Heavens

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  January 12, 2019

Watching the news coverage one evening, I heard myself say aloud to an empty room, “Nevertheless, it moves.” For years, I’ve adopted this mantra from the creative genius, Galileo. It’s a truth detector of sorts for me and seems to name the discrepancy between what is publicly being stated and the subtext that I intuit to be closer to the truth.earth copy2

Even though Galileo and I live centuries apart, I feel an unexplainable kinship to this
man who’s best known for promoting the Copernican view of our place in the cosmos. Galileo insisted that, in spite of everything humankind might want to believe, we on planet Earth are not in fact the center of the universe. In a sun-centered universe, all things do not revolve around us. It’s easy to understand how such a paradigm shift, this new way of looking at ourselves and describing ourselves in relationship to our solar system, created an uproar and won Galileo far more enemies and detractors than supporters.

The Church of the 17th century commanded Galileo to desist in spreading his theory that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. When he didn’t, he was summoned to trial, condemned as a heretic, and threatened with torture unless he recanted. To spare himself excruciating pain, Galileo publicly let go of his finding that the sun was stationary and the planets, including Earth, revolved around it. But I do so love the story that, after his public recanting, Galileo muttered under his breath, “Nevertheless, it moves.” Translation: your narrative is far too limited to encompass what my heart knows to be true.

Following his trial, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his days, a sentence far more harsh than it might be in our day when technology allows us to stay connected with the world wherever we may be. And that’s where the wondering comes in for me. I wonder what his remaining ten years of solitude were like for this man.

In the face of public shame and scorn by the authorities of his time and most probably the distancing of family and friends, was Galileo able to settle into a place of peace, unshaken in his belief in what his research and reflection had concluded, his eyes had seen, and his heart had intuited? Like prisoners of conscience languishing without a release date, like persons who have received a terminal diagnosis or seen a dream destroyed, an idea silenced, a cherished vision ridiculed and trampled into the dust, how did Galileo keep hope alive in the time remaining to him? How do we? What sustained him and what sustains us to keep believing that present realities, no matter how despair-filled they may seem, are not the final word?

I don’t know the answer for Galileo but I hope that, without receiving any vindication or affirmation during his last decade, he was able to hold onto hope as Langston Hughes might have admonished him:

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly. 

I hope he held on tight. I hope he continued to fly. I like to imagine that he, like all of us in the face of ridicule, dismissal, or silencing, held fast and that he knew himself, that we know ourselves, as God’s beloved.  I like to imagine that Galileo, who’s also credited with popularizing the use of the telescope to study the heavens, made a practice of carrying his telescope to the roof of the house where he was held captive those last ten years of his life. That he trained the telescope on the midnight sky, watched and waited and noticed. That he who had pointed to the heavens and glimpsed what was up there looking back at him did not, could not return to the limits of the clearly defined world of his time. That he found some solace in knowing that, in spite of what anyone else had concluded, he was forever deeply connected and immersed in a universe rich with Mystery.2014africandust_vir_2014175_lrg-1024x768 copy

I wonder if, during the dark night, he stood in awed silence and made a prayer of the heavens telling the glory of God. I wonder if, during the afternoon heat, he felt the sun warming his face and read it as a blessing. I wonder if he anchored his feet on the ground, felt the immensity of the Earth, and whispered, “Nevertheless, it moves.”


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on what gives you hope and helps to keep it alive.
If you’re struggling to remain hopeful in the face of the world’s indifference or cruelty, share this with the Holy One and ask for sustaining grace.
If possible, spend some time outside today being blessed by the sun, the sky, the Earth.

Thank you for continuing to hold in your prayer my entering into these January days as a time of deep reflection, writing, and planning for future retreats. 

Please also remember all those will be part of a Directed Prayer Weekend, for which I’ll serve as one of the directors, at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 25-27. Thank you.

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6 thoughts on “Holding Fast to the Heavens”

  1. Thank you so much for this insight! I’ve often wondered how Galileo reconciled his findings with the thinking of his day, when so strongly refuted. It’s a good reminder that we need to follow the Truth even when it costs. That’s what Jesus showed us. It’s a lesson He’s been working on with me recently, so this came at a good time.

  2. Meaningful reflection— we believe in the Gracious Universal Provider, all will be well! We all carry on in this firm belief that good will prevail 👌🙏👍

  3. From Langston Hughs…..”Hold fast to your dreams……” How true as I can attest to with finding true love so late in life. Never give up! Thank you for a beautiful post Chris

    1. Thank you for being a living example of this holding fast to dreams, Carol. So happy for you in your partnership grounded in true love. Congratulations, and every blessing to you both. You are so right: never ever give up!

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