Socially Acceptable Political Correctness and The End of Time

“Here is another image of the human situation.

We are locked in a car (our body), rushing furiously down a hill (time), through fog (ignorance), unable to see ahead, over rocks and pits (wretchedness). The doors are welded shut, the steering works only a little, and the brakes are nonexistent. Our only certainty is that all the cars sooner or later fall over the edge of the cliff (death).

So what do we do? We erect billboards at the edge of the cliff, so that we do not have to look at the abyss. The billboards are called ‘civilization’.

Our ‘solution’ is the biggest part of our problem.”

(Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 145)

Science and Experience

“It is one of the laws of life that new meaning must be lived before it can be known, and in some mysterious way modern man knows so much that he is the prisoner of his knowledge. The old dynamic conception of the human spirit as something living always on the frontiers of human knowledge has gone. We hide behind what we know. And there is an extraordinarily angry and aggressive quality in the knowledge of modern man; he is angry with what he does not know; he hates and rejects it. He has lost the sense of wonder about the unknown and he treats it as an enemy. The experience which is before knowing, which would enflame his life with new meaning, is cut off from him.

Curiously enough, it has never been studied more closely. People have measured the mechanics of it, and the rhythm, but somehow they do not experience it.”  (Sir Laurens Van der Post, found in Stephen Muse’s When Hearts Become Flame, p. 75)

This Square Peg Finds Its Place at Last

(I thought the end of the year an appropriate time to share this poem I penned.   It is all poetically true, and as we come to the last day of the year, it is apropos too.   Some think death too morbid a subject to ever be addressed, but as a priest I do funerals and so think about death.  Besides, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “All it takes to die is to be alive.”  Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet after being stabbed by a sword is asked if the wound is serious, he replies, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor as wide as a church door; ‘ Tis enough,’ twill serve.  Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” I guess if the Bard can poetically spar and parry with death while having a bit of fun with it, I can as well.   I had to memorize that Shakespearean line in 9th grade – 43 years ago – and finally decided to put it to use.  Mrs. Russell should be proud that her efforts to force us to memorize things has not been forgotten.)

This Square Peg Finds Its Place at Last

Through time across earth’s face

I sojourned to find that place

In which I might fit, but no.

It’s the last place I want to go.

A place for rest, not recreation

My final worldly destination.

Though in life I found no place on earth

Where I fit in since my time of birth.

There is a place to call my own

Wherein I’ll rest my weary bone.

That place some time ago was booked

Reserved but the date was yet overlooked.

The fees for the lot were gravely paid

As were the wages by the one they slayed.

In life my soul found no rest or peace in sin,

The end is where the square peg at last fits in.


[Note:  I originally wrote this review in 2005, long before I started blogging, and never had a venue to publish it.  It sat stored in the deep recesses of my computer’s memory until I came across it again while searching for something else.  I decided to publish it in this two part blog.]

DNA: THE SECRET OF LIFE By James Watson (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2003)

James Watson along with Francis Crick are credited with revealing the very nature of DNA – the double helix which is for science as the title suggests the secret of life. Crick and Watson received the Nobel Prize for their work to crack the code of proteins which constitutes how life is passed from one cell to the next, and life from one generation to the next. Watson’s book offers insight into how the various discoveries of an array of scientists brought the pieces of the puzzle together to open to our eyes how life works on the level of molecular biology. The book is a fascinating history of modern science in the field of genetics. It also brings a great deal of science to the level of knowledgeable readers. One can gain great insight into the possibilities which the science of genetics is opening to our world. One also realizes clearly that for some what has been opened by molecular biologists and geneticists is a potential economic bonanza, the likes of which the world has not previously known. For others, the unveiling of DNA will bring into reality the worst fears of science fiction. Watson does not avoid the controversies which this science has caused nor the alarms which have been set off among some people about the dangers which it represents. He is in the end confident that this new science will prove its worth and will silence its critics.

But not being a scientist nor an entrepreneur nor a venture capitalist, I can’t really comment on the these aspects of the book DNA. I was however intrigued by some of the theological implications of the book, though Watson would never claim it to be a theological book at all. Watson admits he is purely a secularist and a scientist. But that makes the book interesting for believers. It is a readable book even when the scientific details are beyond my understanding and even when the story complete with names of all those involved is beyond my interest. It is a book which really does assume and advocate a purely secular scientific understanding of life. Watson is quite confident that the potential of this science, though fraught with some risk, ultimately is for the greater good. He dismisses the concerns of religious folk, ethicists, politicians, environmentalists, organic farmers and American lovers of racial and gender equality with equal aplomb. Whatever questions or fears have been raised about genetically altering plants, foods, animals or humans, he dismisses as not founded on good science. He wholly trusts in the goodness of science and scientists because he does believe in the end humans are basically benign if not outright benevolent.  (“Mostly harmless” according to THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.)

I would encourage Christians to read this book for several reasons, not the least of which is we gain some understanding into the secular scientific mind.  If we are to fulfill our evangelical mission, we have to have some comprehension of those to whom we will proclaim the good news.   Evangelism is about communication and to communicate with others we have to understand their language and concepts so that we can translate the Gospel into a language that speaks to them as well.

1) For those who are interested in the connection between life and physical creation, this book does offer a scientific criticism of the need for any kind of vitalism – some force divine or natural which gives life to inanimate material. By showing the basis of biological life to be in proteins and protein manufacturing and transfer, Watson aims at demonstrating that even without any sense of divine intervention, biological processes toward the continuation of a species does go on at the molecular level. This is taking the Creationism vs. Evolution to a new level – a microbiological level. DNA – basically chemicals and proteins – works to preserve life from one cell to the next and from one generation to the next. At this level it is possible to believe that inanimate proteins are somehow carrying on the work of life itself. It is not so totally impossible to see a physical universe capable at the level of proteins to begin organizing chains of proteins and than copying those chains and passing them along to ever complex forms until cells emerge. They are doing that right now in our bodies, millions of times every day. At this level we also see the mechanism of evolution at work, and can see why scientists believe this does explain the history of life itself. In some sense genetic material is in fact a historical record of life on earth, recorded, copied and passed down through the millennium complete with scribal errors which brought into being new combinations of DNA resulting over time in new species. As Watson describes it, “Life, we now know, is nothing but a vast array of coordinated chemical reactions.” Of course this is a reductionism and assumes that life can be completely understood on the level of proteins. But we know life exists and functions on other levels besides the molecular level. Nevertheless, as Christians, molecular biology, microbiology and genetics do offer to us a new way of seeing the universe, and the plan of God at work. While humans may disobey the will of God, at the molecular level, creation is working according to the will and plan of God. And because we know this level exists, we can hardly pretend otherwise even if it is a challenge to our belief in creation.

2) In the chapter “Who We Are” Watson also points out that the great scientific opposition to evolution and Mendelian genetics was Comrade Trofim Lysenko who inspired Stalin to follow disastrous agricultural methods which while ideologically acceptable to the atheistic communists, totally ignored the discoveries of genetic science. The results were the massive starvation of millions of Soviet citizens while US agriculture following genetic science became the breadbasket of the world. This is a historical truth which creation scientists might not want to forget. In Watson’s own words: “… ideology– of any kind– and science are at best inappropriate bedfellows. Science may indeed uncover unpleasant truths, but the critical thing is that they are truths. Any effort, whether wicked or well-meaning, to conceal truth or impede its disclosure is destructive.” Here Watson would agree with the search which Orthodox Christianity also would claim for religion: truth. For Watson however, there is no transcendent truth, no truth outside the realm of the physical world, no meaning to be bestowed upon us all at the end of the world. For him, when the universe might end by reaching entropy or in another Big Bang, meaning will cease to exist as well. There is no great struggle for the good against evil for him. There is no sense that something greater than this world (or this DNA!) exists beyond or outside of the chemical universe. Human intelligence, emotions or creativity not withstanding, for Watson the world of DNA is awesome and awe inspiring, but mystery is limited only to that which we have yet to discover or that which is beyond our immediate technology. A true sense of mystery – a logic of other beyond human logic or of some plan unfolding in the universe whose purpose or goal is beyond our understanding – these Watson the secularist is not interested in.


Cause and Effect?

(The meanderings of a twisted mind pondering the meaning of cause and effect, or is it effect which gives meaning to cause, or effect which causes meaning?)

Not out of nothing, came I into existence,

But not for nothing?

Nothing is certain.

For all to exist as is, requires all that is to exist.

I is not the cause of I,

Existence is.

Effect give meaning to cause?

Is cause in need of effect to give ‘Is’

what is it’s meaning?

What effect has meaning, if cause does not?

Can meaningless Cause cause to exist 

What gives it meaning?

Is ‘Is’ in need of ‘I’ because I gives meaning to ‘Is’?

What Is is The One Who Is’s.

The ‘I’ Effect reflects as image what ‘Is’ is:

The source not of nothing but of being, cause, meaning.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:10-32 (c)

See: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (b)

Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood;  …  26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

This section of Genesis brings us to the birth of Abram, whom many consider to be the father of the great monotheistic religions:  Judaism, Christianity and Islam.   Genesis offers that overarching metanarrative which ties all of humanity together.  It is a story that helps define our common human nature.  We are all part of God’s great unfolding narrative, and it is His story which gives our lives and our individual stories meaning.  Many think that at the beginning of the 21st Century, the philosophical outlook which shapes our current understanding of the world is “postmodernism.”  While the ideas of postmodernism are complex, as a philosophy it seems to accept the notion that there is no real way to “measure” the truth or validity of any story, since each person’s life experience is true to them and can’t be measured against any standard or canon as any one story is as true and valid as any other from the point of view of each person.   Postmodernism would say everyone’s story is true and right from some perspective and it would deny there is a shared human nature or shared human story to tie us all together.   This philosophy is a theory of intellectual and moral relativity.  As in the theory of relativity in physics, “truth” is limited to the vantage point of the observer – time and space are all relative to the position, speed and direction of the observer.  “Perception” of an event is completely shaped by one’s position relative to the event.  Any one perception can be true for that observer but others seeing the same event from other positions relative to the event will see the event differently and yet their perception will be true for them.  

In postmodernism we may all share the same planet, but our lives relative to one another are not all that connected.  There is no one perspective that is the correct perspective and so truth, right, wrong, good and evil vary from person to person.  A movie which captures this quite well is the 2005 movie, CRASH.  In that movie all of the characters live in the same city and their lives are tied together by a series of otherwise random events.  However, despite being tied together by these events, none of  the characters are aware of their connection to the others – only the viewer of the movie has the perspective of how they are all tied together.  But for the characters, their lives are a series of accidental “crashes” into one another.  The movie suggests that individuals longing for feeling some connection to others – longing to be sprung from the isolation and alienation of extreme individualism  – “crash” into each other, sometimes intentionally just to feel alive or to get some sense that they belong to something greater than themselves.  

In certain ways this postmodern thinking is an intellectual Darwinism where all events that happen are ultimately random not giving direction to life, not serving any purpose, but definitely shaping present experience and the future of humanity.  Like Darwinism, postmodernism, denies teleology (the idea that life purposefully moves toward some conclusion or end).  The Bible certainly accepts teleology – there is a purposeful beginning to humankind and there is a God who is guiding the world and this God has a plan for the world which includes an ending toward which God is guiding things.  The Bible offers the beginnings of the story, shapes the direction we are headed in, and offers some specific thoughts about how it all will end.  In postmodern terms, the Bible offers a meta-narrative, a story that ties together all peoples, all lives, and all human stories.  It is not one person’s story, it is rather the story of everybody,  a story that shows our common humanity and which ties together all the individual stories of humans.  It is a story with a purpose, in which it is possible to discern right and wrong, good and evil, beginning and end.  

Each life is important, not random, and not meaningless.  Even the use of typology or a prototype within the biblical narrative (that one story can somehow foreshadow a later story and help us recognize and understand later stories) argues against pure postmodernism.  Figurative thinking and symbolic thinking help us recognize patterns in life – they help us make sense of past historical events, they help us to recognize the significance of current events.  They help us realize each life is not totally unrelated to all other lives. Each life contributes to the bigger picture, the tapestry or mosaic or narrative.  No one life is self contained, no one life can measure the worth of all other things, because every life is part of a bigger whole, which is purposeful.  Each life and each person’s story will get measured and evaluated in terms of this bigger narrative, and it is this bigger picture which offers meaning to each life, no matter how great, how long, how short. 

The important insight of monotheism is that there is a meta-narrative; there is a way to understand all the individual stories, even if we can’t fully grasp that meta-story yet – even if there is mystery, even if there are unresolved contradictions in the Scriptures which contain the revelation of this one God.  The Bible contains in a written form the known elements of this revelation, and it gives us perspective on life, gives direction to life, gives meaning to life.  The Bible also tells us that the world is confusing, and at times every bit as uncertain as postmodernism would affirm.  The Bible does show us that events do occur which from our limited human perspective do appear to be random, unfair, inexplicable, and ambiguous.  

The Bible does take perspective – it traces history and humanity through particular peoples’ lives, and does not pretend to be neutral or objective, but rather is either biased or ambivalent or both.   Perhaps the most postmodern event in the Bible is when God creates light in Genesis 1:3.   There was light – it had no source, no direction, it simply was.  There existed no perspective in that verse, it is all about simply being.  And since nothing else existed it had no direction, no goal, no purpose, and no movement.  Even Einstein’s relativity didn’t exist in that event for light was all.  

Adam & Eve

The Bible however doesn’t end with this directionless and perspectiveless light.  That light serves to connect and illumine all else that exists.   The Bible says this is the truth of humanity as well – we each are not merely individuals, but we are communal beings.   We are created to be in communion with God and with each other.  We are by nature beings of love (meaning we are by nature oriented toward others).  Genesis tells us in narrative form the story of each of us and any of us and all of us.  It reveals to us our humanness and thus our interdependency on all else that exists.  It helps us realize there is a way, a direction, and it tells us we have lost that way, but it is still available for us to find.  Genesis helps put us on that right path.   Even the ambiguities in the story and the contradictions tell us we need to find a better perspective to understand what is.  That gives us purpose, motivation, and direction – we need to move to that new perspective.  And the Scriptures will help us find that way.

Next: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (d)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8-17 (a)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

God’s promise to never again destroy the earth and to accept as “inevitable” the wickedness in the human heart means God is willing to accept suffering because of and for His creatures.   In deciding to preserve humans rather than annihilate them, God decides to accept having a continuously grieving heart as part of allowing humans to continue to exist. God in effect accepts His own having to suffer as a necessary part of His love for His creation. God can see humans will continue to cause Him pain, and He accepts that as the price He has to pay for having such creatures on His earth.  Allowing the continuance of the human race for God means bearing with the wickedness of humanity and accepting the pain which humans cause Him in his heart.

“…and with every living creature…”   God’s covenant has a global dimension to it.  The covenant is not limited to humans for even non-rational animals are included in it.  The rainbow reminds God that His covenant extends to all animals too.  The protection of life guaranteed in the covenant broadly includes all humans, not just Jews, males, righteous saints, the good, or believers; God’s love and concern encompasses every human being without exception and unconditionally.  The covenant is not limited to rational creatures, to believers, to the rich, to the educated, nor to those who have reached the age of reason.  This divine testament is truly “on behalf of all and for all.”  And why shouldn’t it include animals?  In Psalm 148, one of the Psalms of praises, we call upon not only animals but even inanimate objects to praise God: “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (148:7-10)

The Rainbow.   Because the ancients tended to believe the sky/heavens was a solid boundary (they had no instruments to examine them closely), they had no modern concept of what the lights in the heavens were exactly (remember they had no electricity so did not and could not see the stars as light bulbs of some sort). The only things they knew created light were the sun and the stars and the moon and fire.  But the stars in heaven gave a more perfect light unlike any fire on earth.  The moon glowed.  The light of the sun was hot – that they could observe.  But what the source of the light was, they could only speculate.  The appearance of a rainbow in heaven was equally mystifying as it was always above them, and could not be explained by human reason. 

“bow in the cloud”     Though modern people tend to see the rainbow as something beautiful, the word “bow” is the word for the weapon “bow” which any archer would use (“weapon” in fact is its only meaning in the bible).  It was a beautiful bow and a sign of a promised peace, but it was seen as a weapon by the biblical authors – a sign of God’s power and anger too.   The author of the text has no understanding of the rainbow as a natural phenomenon caused by water droplets refracting light causing the spectrum of light to appear.  He assumes that the first appearance of a rainbow was after the flood – thus all rainbows are miraculous signs, not natural phenomenon.     

Photo by rwangsa

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant…”   The rainbow is to be a sign to God, not the humans!   When God sees the bow, he promises it will remind Him of the covenant He has made.   When we see the rainbow in the sky, we might consider we are looking at the very same thing which God is looking at that very moment as well.  We both share a common vision of at least one thing in creation.  And if every time God sees the rainbow He is reminded of His covenant with humanity, how much more might we expect God to recognize His peace with us everytime He sees the cross, the sign of God’s New covenant with humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

It All Adds Up

Yesterday, my 25 year old son asked me to help him with his college algebra as he was preparing for an exam.  Now I am really proud of him being in college – he didn’t like school as a teenager and eventually dropped out of high school.  Now he has returned to school and takes it all quite seriously in a way he never could as a teenager.  

{I remember once hearing a proposal (though no longer remember who said this) that instead of just giving free public education to kids and teens, the states should have a policy of 12 years of free public education.  If you drop out of school in the 10th grade and only take an interest in school again at age 25, you still get 2 more years of paid for education.  Maybe that is a way to help people who drop out of school and only when they mature a bit and are ready to take it seriously do they come back to continue their public education.  It might help the public high schools as well in giving them a chance to deal with the students who are most interested in being in school, rather than making the school system day care  for kids who don’t want to be in school and for parents who could care less.    It would be an idea that requiring us to rethink education maybe more in the model of Community Education.}

Myself I wanted at one time to be a math major in college, but went to school with a chemistry scholarship.  Along my college path I came to realize that there was something about the truths of mathematics and science that left me feeling cold and unsatisfied.  I couldn’t see myself doing math for the rest of my life, which as I look at it now was a strange thing considering how much of a shy introvert I am and how I really am the  analytic type.

The mathematical and scientific view of humanity were in my mind an incomplete and inadequate way of seeing the universe or understanding what it is to be human.   The search for meaning – including what does it mean to be human? – was an investigation that for me proved far more intriguing than what I saw in science.  For it seemed to me at that time that scientific thinking was claiming it had all the answers, whereas there seemed to me to be a more mysterious side to humanity and the cosmos which science alone could not explain.    Ironically enough, it also seemed to me that the very reason science could displace religion as the main way of approaching humanity and the universe was because institutional religion itself had become staid and moribund by claiming it had all of the answers to the universe.  The scientific fields of genetics, DNA, quantum physics were excitedly opening up new vistas into the mysteries of the universe; not just offering answers, but posing wonderful new questions which made us realize how wonderful and  mysterious the universe really was. 

Looking at the math that my son was working on revived those feelings in me.  I guess it is true that the real money to be earned in the world today requires the person to know plenty of math; that wasn’t strong enough motivation for me to stick with it (and if any wonder I graduated college summa cum laude, so it wasn’t a matter of the subject being too difficult for me).  A couple of years ago I read John Derbyshire’s  UNKNOWN QUANTITY:  A REAL AND IMAGINARY HISTORY OF ALGEBRA –  no easy read to be sure and I no longer comprehend the math, but found the history of humanity’s ever more abstract thinking to be fascinating.  Again, it is humanity not the math that kept my interest in the book.

Which brings me to the point I actually wanted to make in this blog, but took a lot of side roads to get there.  Though algebraic formulas and the graphs they can generate do in some way describe the universe, and put the truths about our universe into mathematical formulae, I still find them uninteresting because I find people far more fascinating and important.   Algebra and the calculus are totally fascinating, and have opened up ever more abstract ways of thinking which have made possible remarkable inventions and technology.  Yet, for me they fall short because they cannot answer questions about meaning, about what it is to be human, about the soul, or about God.    There are entire dimensions to being human and how we experience the universe and process scientific information which math cannot explain, and so it is an inadequate though incredibly important way of understanding the world.

The scientific drive to describe everything in terms of mathematical formulae, rather than in terms of language, changes our ideas about truth, about language and about reality itself.  It tends to make us think that the only truth worth knowing must be expressible in mathematically factual formulae.  And while it is A way of seeing the universe, if we make it into our only way of seeing truth or the universe, we deprive ourselves of a great deal of knowledge, experience and wisdom, not to mention beauty, mystery, and divinity.  It is most fascinating how abstract human thinking can take observable objects and events and express them in mathematical formulae.  But it impoverishes us when we then believe that other forms of thinking and knowing are not real – poetry, theology, prose, emotions, intuition, faith, and love.   EQ is as real and important to humanity as IQ.

When I came to believe that there is something more to the universe than just the observable and empirical, that there is more to the universe then can be expressed in mathematical formulae, not only was humanity more visible to me, but so too the cosmos and God.

“Seeing” with our Ears is Believing

Being a person with little training in music or the arts of any kind (I never took a music class after 7th grade until I had my one semester of music at seminary), the world of art and music remains to my perception a foreign language – I have a hard time recognizing the patterns of meaning that others so appreciate (see my blog Let There be Light).   When viewing art or listening to music I feel the scriptural words are fulfilled:  “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive” (Matthew 13:14).

resoundingtruthI found the Mars Hill Audio Journal interview “Patterns of Musical Meaning” with Jeremy Begbie, a musician and Duke University theology professor (Number 94, Nov/Dec 2008) to be most intriguing.  The interview inspired me to purchase Begbie’s new book RESOUNDING TRUTH: CHRISTIAN WISDOM IN THE WORLD OF MUSIC, which I am now reading with great interest (and will comment on the book in a future blog).   Among the things that host Ken Myers and Jeremy Begbie discussed which caught my attention and imagination:

Culture is the ordering of meaning, providing a framework of understanding of the world around us.   Christian culture seeks to perceive the meaning to be found in God’s creation.  In this thinking any form of art is about the discovery of order and meaning in the universe.  (The Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things,” says, “The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You.”)    Artists see and help us see things and to perceive meaning that are not immediately obvious to us, but they help us make connections which enable us to “see”.   Begbie offered the quote, “Love achieves its creativity by being perceptive.”     That is the job of the artist and the poet and the scientists – to be perceptive enough to see patterns and meaning and truth in the world around us.  It is also what “wisdom” contributes to the spiritual life – not law but understanding the world to know the when, why, where and how to apply the teachings of Christ. 

The main idea of Begbie’s which I found most provocative was his sense of how music is a different way of “seeing” the world.  When we see the world with our eyes alone, space takes on a certain meaning –  we can see only one thing in a given space, and anything that occupies one space is not present in the rest of space.   But with music one “sees” space in a totally different way.  For in music, though one note fills the space around us, we still can add more notes to the same space and yet still perceive the different notes at the same time in the same “heard” space.  He gave several examples of this and I will only mention the sympathetic resonance – where a note is played with the same note one octave lower – the sounds do not cancel each other out but in fact magnify each other. 

Begbie offers this characteristic of music – the ability for more than one thing to fill a space at the same time and still be clearly perceived – as an alternative way to understand how an omnipotent God can allow His creatures to have free will.  If our only way of “seeing” the universe is visually, we cannot understand how we can be free beings and have an omnipotent God.  But if we “see” the world in the “heard space” of music, we come to understand how this is possible.  Sympathetic resonance gives us a clue.  God’s freedom doesn’t oppose or replace ours.  God’s freedom and ours can enhance/resonate with one another and even increase the freedom for us to be who we are. 

If we only perceive visually we cannot see how God’s activity in the world can be consistent with ideas of human freedom – since visually only one thing can occupy any given space.  Music however gives us a model to re-image or re-imagine how freedom might work.   It also allows us to “see” better the Trinity – how the Three Persons can share the One divine nature – for as in music any “space” can be occupied by more than one note or Person even when that “space” was completely filled by the first.

Myers called harmony singing “a parable of what it is to be free” – for voices singing in harmony are each freely following their own path, and yet together they make beautiful music.   It is also an image of how Christian are to help one another – working in harmony to build up the church by having each freely use the gifts God’s Spirit has bestowed sunriseupon him or her.

“Seeing” the universe through music seems so appropriate for Christians.  For in the beginning, when God spoke there was light (Genesis 1:3).   It is not sound but light which God’s spoken word brought into existence.   We see space and time visually but we also need to “see” the “heard” space and time if we are going to use all of the senses with which God has blessed us to discover the meaning He has implanted in the cosmos.

See also my blog Resounding Truth: Music and the Flourishing of Humankind

Knowing God – St. Hilary of Poitiers

A quote from St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th Century AD), quoted by Olivier Clement in THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM ( a book I would highly recommend to everyone).

 “I began the search for the meaning of life.  At first I was attracted by riches and leisure… But most people discover that human nature wants something better to do than just gormandize and kill time.  They have been given life in order to achieve something worthwhile, to make use of their talents.  It could not have been given them without some benefit in eternity.  How otherwise could one regard as a gift from God a life so eaten away by anguish, so riddled with vexation, which left to itself would simply wear out, from the prattle of the cradle to the drivel of senility?  Look at people who have practiced patience, chastity and forgiveness.  The good life for them meant good deeds and good thoughts.  Could the immortal God have given us life with no other horizon than death?  Could he have inspired us with such a desire to live, if the only outcome would be the horror of death?   ….  Then I sought to know God better… I discovered the books which the Jewish religion says were composed by Moses and the prophets.  There I discovered that God bears witness to himself in these terms:   ‘I am who I am,’ and ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”‘ (Exodus 3:14).  I was filled with wonder at this perfect definition which translates into intelligible words the incomprehensible knowledge of God.  Nothing better suggest God than Being.  ‘He who is’ can have neither end nor beginning… and since God’s eternity cannot contradict itself, in order to assert his unapproachable eternity, God needed only to assert solemnly that he is.”