Seven Heroes, Seven Faiths
A look at the astronauts' different spiritual paths--and their communities' different ways of mourning.
The grieving are calling out to Jesus--and God and HaShem and Krishna. They are chanting passages from the New Testament, the Torah, Unitarian readings, and the Vedas.
The crew of Columbia represents an extraordinary variety of faith traditions:
Kalpana Chawla - Hindu and Sikh background
William McCool - Roman Catholic
Ilan Ramon - Jewish
Rick Husband - Charismatic
Laurel Clark - Unitarian
David Brown - Episcopalian
Michael Anderson - Baptist
This is just the way America is right now. Seek the best and the brightest, and you'll invariably scoop up a great assortment of faiths.
There are some differences, of course, in the ways that each faith attempts to make sense of the tragedy. St. Bernadette Church in Houston, attended by William McCool, emphasized that because Christ died for humanity's sins, no one need fear death. A Hindu memorial service, drawing on completely different texts, evoked sentiments similar to those found in the Christian and Jewish services:
Lead me from unreal to real;
lead me from darknessto light;
lead me from death to immortality.
Om...peace, peace, peace.
At Laurel Clark's childhood Unitarian church in Racine, Wisconsin, the minister's remembrance focused not at all on the hereafter but celebrated the doctor's joy in life, expressed in an email that she had sent from space: "I hope you could feel the positive energy that beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet."
Each astronaut followed a different spiritual path, each with a different style of mourning. Here are brief spiritual biographies of the astronauts--accompanied by examples of how those traditions are marking their deaths.