In her new book, Sasha Sagan defines a place for family and spirituality in science, space and nature.
"For Small Creatures Such as We" (G.P Putnam's Sons, 2019), Sagan's new book pays homage to her late father, the astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan (whose famous quote from "Contact" inspired the title of the book), and her mother, "Cosmos" co-writer Ann Druyan, while finding traditions and inspiration in the natural world.
After becoming a mother, Sagan, who is nonreligious but who has a Jewish background and a husband with a Christian background, realized the importance of having rituals with her own family. But, being secular, she didn't want to draw on religion to inform their family traditions. Instead, as she explores in the book, Sagan looks to the beauty and "magic" of nature, on our planet and out in the cosmos, to inspire ritual and togetherness in her home.
"People are born and people die. We've all got to get through it one way or another," Sagan said to Space.com. "Maybe it's OK to say that this feeling that historically has been associated with a religious experience is the same sort of feeling that we so often feel when we get [things] like the image of the black hole."
Sagan expertly weaves science and nature into the fabric of humanness and ritual in this book. She highlights not only how one might go about forming secular traditions around space and science, but also how individuals and families can rekindle wonderment at not only the natural world but also the incredible scientific and technical achievements of our own species. To Space.com, she noted a number of specific examples of real-world advancements that could create feelings of awe, including "the success of the solar sail."
"Those of us who don't believe, we still have to have weddings, we still have to have funerals, we still have to mark time, we still want to celebrate," Sagan said. "I sort of started thinking about how would I create this framework for a child who would be growing up in a secular home," she added. In her book, Sagan explores how one might create rituals and traditions "guided by the principles and the values that my parents instilled in me — the idea that there is that wonder, that spine tingling thrill in that which can be supported by evidence."
"I think the more that I learned about rituals from cultures around the world and throughout time, the more clear it became that so much of what were really celebrating and have always celebrated are natural phenomena," Sagan said. "If you sort of peel back some of the specifics of time and place … we're all coming from a place of trying to understand the rhythms of life on this planet and trying to understand how to grapple with life in a universe where there is constant change."
"I think that it's the idea that, across the world and throughout time, human beings have been celebrating natural phenomena, scientific phenomena for eons and that if we can sort of refocus our view, the provable scientific events, the parts of life that totally require no faith are still stirring and meaningful and worthy of awe and celebration," she added.
This book guides readers through the ways to find their own sense of secular spirituality, if you could call it that, and the ways to create rituals and traditions with nature and science as sources of inspiration. The book also serves partially as a social history of ritual and as a memoir of her life, being inspired by Sagan's viral essay in The Cut entitled "Lessons of Immortality and Mortality From My Father, Carl Sagan." "For people who are space enthusiasts and [fans of] my parents work … this is a celebration of that too," Sagan said.
So, whether you are looking for a guide to finding new traditions, or if you are simply looking to be re-inspired by the world around you, this book is sure to be a good fit.
You can find Sagan's book "For Small Creatures Such as We" online now here.
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