When I was about 8 years old I learned that earthlings are not alone in the Universe. This was the summer my divorced mother bundled her three young children into the car for “an adventure to California“. I have limited memories of what we did or where we went, but the memories I do have are powerful and crystal clear.
First, I recall driving West across the seemingly endless desert. Mother combined foam pads and blankets to create a comfy bed in the back of the car for us to stretch out on [because this was long before anyone worried about wearing seat belts - in fact, it was long before cars even had seat belts, which I suppose meant we were all living in mortal peril, but as ignorance is bliss, road trips were WAY more fun back then!] So, as we lay on our cozy ‘mortal peril’ car bed, we watched the moon slowly rise up from the eastern horizon. This was no ordinary moon, oh no! It was like an amazing special effect straight out of a science fiction movie. The heavenly orb was so close to the ground that it seemed if mother had stopped the car right there, we could have jumped out, reached up, and grabbed onto it. This new moon was wide and flat and yellow as a pancake hot off the griddle at Grandma’s house. So naturally, that’s what we named it. “The Pancake Moon”. We laughed at our cleverness, and giggled at our good fortune to get to see such a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. I learned later that a Harvest Moon, [such as it is properly called], is frequently seen in the desert. However, I have still never experienced a moon quite like it since. So, I’m keeping the pleasant notion that “The Pancake Moon” was created just for one magical night in family history.
The second unforgettable memory of this trip comes several days later while staying with mother’s friends; a happy young couple, with a fussy baby who lived in a trailer home. I liked this little trailer house. First, I discovered that it had a “secret space” underneath it, in which I could crawl and lay on cool green grass while playing undisturbed with my plastic ponies. It also had a very large front porch with lawn chairs to sit on, which would soon become significant. These friends must have lived somewhere in the countryside, because when night fell, it got very very dark outside. It is also likely the little trailer did not have sufficient air conditioning because I remember that it was very warm and hard to sleep. Mother let me stay up later than my siblings [a special treat that made me feel very important and grown up], and we went out on the porch to cool off. Naturally, I gazed up. To my wonder and amazement, the sky was literally exploding with stars! I’d never seen anything like it before! Mother took the opportunity for a teaching moment. She pointed out the big and little dipper, the North Star, and other fascinating constellations and patterns I’d never known existed. Then, she explained a simple yet staggering gospel principle;
“Did you know that we believe there are many other earths out there? The scriptures teach us that there are hundreds of other worlds, filled with millions of other people just like us. I bet there is probably another little girl out there right now looking up at her stars and wondering about your existence.”
Bam! It was as if my mind had just exploded along with the starry sky above me. A million ideas and questions flew through my brain trying to formulate themselves into words. What do these worlds look like? Do they have oceans and mountains and rivers and flowers? Do these people have the same kind of food to eat like us? Do all the kids have to go to school? Do they get to draw pictures, and do they have to do math? What kind of books do they read? Do they have a fun place like Disneyland to go to? Do they drive cars and watch TV? What kinds of TV shows and movies do they watch? How about cartoons? Do they have animals and pets? Are there horses to love and ride and take care of? [this was possibly my very most important question, because I LOVED horses, yearned for one of my own, and certainly didn't think any world could possibly live without them]. And, what about pretty churches and temples like we have? Do they pray to Heavenly Father and get help from Jesus?
Although I cannot recall what transpired after Mom’s “big reveal”, I have a feeling she stayed up pretty late that night discussing this fabulous new topic with her inquisitive and very excited daughter.
Flash forward nearly four decades. In February of this year scientists announced the discovery of six new planets orbiting a sun-like star. It is considered “a new planetary system” – completely unknown to us until now. This is certainly not the first exciting cosmic discovery over the past forty years, nor will it be the last. I am continually amazed at the wonders of creation and the boundless possibilities of “Space: the final frontier”. I still get as giddy today about this subject as my little-girl-self sitting on a mobile home porch looking up at the sky with her mommy.
In 1971 a science and religion professor from Brigham Young University named Kent Nielsen wrote a fascinating article published in our church teen magazine The New Era, entitled “People On Other Worlds“. [I highly recommend it]. Nielsen does a great job expounding on the exciting LDS doctrine of infinite creation, and multiple populated worlds.
“. . .Is our earth the only world in all of space that has intelligent inhabitants? Or is there life on other worlds—perhaps intelligent beings like ourselves or maybe even more intelligent than ourselves? Might they visit us?. . .One of the most exciting things for many Latter-day Saint students to learn is that the Church, through revelation from God (who—have you ever thought of it in this light?—is our contact from outer space), teaches some of the answers to these questions. And we’ve had the answers for quite some time.”
In June 1830 the prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation while studying and translating the Bible, which is known in LDS scripture as The Book of Moses [another very cool read I highly recommend] which details, among other things, conversations which Moses had with God on Mount Sinai. At one point, Moses is shown the entire world and God’s amazing creations. Here is an excerpt of the ensuing conversation:
“And behold, the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face. And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.
“And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
“And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose.
“And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.
“But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.
“And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
“And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.” – Moses 1:31-35, 37-38
There are a lot of “mind blowing” things to ponder in the Book of Moses. Some people consider this part of Mormonism “strange”. A more tolerant, or ‘politically-correct’ person might simply say it’s “unusual”. And, of course there’s the folk who’ve branded it “heretical”. Generally we just smile and shrug our shoulders. Mormons certainly don’t try to force anyone to believe in Worlds Without End, we simply extend an open invitation to ponder the possibility of a truly infinite and eternally expanding Universe. Imagine a divinely planned Cosmos filled with endless worlds which are experiencing mortal creation, life, death and resurrection just as our Earth, all in different stages! [you have to admit, that's pretty cool] Just in case there’s still any confusion regarding the title of my post: “aliens” does not refer to little green men or Star Trekkie creatures – but rather human beings just like you and me, living in ‘foreign intergalactic locations‘. :)
Even after thousands of years living on this planet, we earthlings are barely scratching the surface of understanding the great Cosmos surrounding us [as evidenced just last month by NASA's discovery]. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that an all-powerful God who can create “all things in both the heaven and earth” didn’t just stop with one heaven or one small earth. I truly believe there is much more to His awesome creations than we can ever comprehend at this point. I look forward to learning more, either in this life, or the next! By the way, did you know the apostle Paul believed in these things? He spoke of God’s Son, “whom he hath appointed heir of all things,” being the one “by whom also he made the worlds.”- Hebrews 1:2
Definitely something cool to ponder while gazing upward at the night sky!