Today, March 6, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is gracefully slipping into dwarf planet Ceres’ orbit. This is its final destination on its two-stop mission, which has so far taken eight years to accomplish. The Dawn spaceship is special because it runs on an ion propulsion engine. This engine is very efficient, but doesn’t have much force; it only thrusts at the same force as a piece of paper resting on your fingertips. Let’s just say that if Dawn were one of the characters in “The Tortoise and the Hare,” it would be more like Tortoise—starting off slow, but steadily gaining ground. It’s very different from a speedy hare-like rocket, which starts out with a fiery bang and zooms along with lightning speed.
Back in July of 2011, the Dawn spacecraft had just reached Phase One of its mission after four years of puffing its way to the asteroid Vesta. At the time, Marc Rayman, Dawn Chief Engineer and Mission Director said, “Gradually, over time, the effect of this whisper-like thrust can build up and produce fantastically high velocity. So this is what I like to call acceleration with patience.”
When I heard him say “acceleration with patience,” it occurred to me that this steady whisper-thrusting ion engine is a lot like prayer sometimes. We’ve all experienced the kind of prayer where the answer or inspiration hits us like a rocket flash. But sometimes, we do a lot of determined seeking, deep thinking, and quiet listening before we reach the ultimate answer. That seeking, thinking, and listening to God is the whisper-thrusting that inevitably takes us to our final destination: complete realization of our present perfection as part of God’s spiritual creation. It may seem like we’re going nowhere, but those puffs of prayer help us stay the course; they push us along and steer us in the right direction.
Patience and persistence in prayer are nothing new; Jesus also taught this approach. He instructed his followers using a parable: “that man ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). He told them about a disagreeable judge who doesn’t honor God, nor does he care much about helping the people. In the story, a widow begs the judge to grant her justice against her adversary. At first, he refuses. But she continues asking that justice be served. Finally, because the judge doesn’t want to hear her ask one more time, he grants her what she’s seeking. Then Jesus brings home the point that even a cranky judge will give in when asked continuously. Think how much more willing God, divine Love, is to help His beloved children when they ask.
God’s tender care, and His salvation from whatever would harm us, concern us, or even irritate us, are always immediate. Our help is as omnipresent as God is. We’re never waiting to be His complete and loved spiritual child. But sometimes it does take persistent prayer for the facts of God’s infinite creation to be glimpsed. Like the ion engine, it may seem like our progress is imperceptible at first, but our prayers always bring progress—whether slowly or quickly. There’s nothing like a rocket-like flash of inspiration to zoom us forward, but there’s also something to be said for a Dawn-like whisper-thrusting prayer, accelerating forward with patience.
If you'd like to learn more about the technical aspects of the Dawn mission, rocket your way over to mountaintop moments and watch an official video put out by NASA.
Here are more ideas about persistence:
Another parable from Jesus
Writings by Mary Baker Eddy
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:
I hope these insights will inspire readers to think more spiritually about themselves and the world around them!