Tag Archives: Science

Art History; History Art; Art, History

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Back in college I was required to take a visual art class as part of my major. Being a lover of history I chose to take Art History II. The fascinating thing about Professor Jeff Thompson’s class was that the text book was not an Art History textbook. It was simply a History textbook.

Professor Thompson began the class with a question: “Does art merely reflect history, or does it drive history?” If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll recognize this is a binary, “either, or” question, and the answer to his question that we arrived at was “yes, and.”

What was fascinating in the course of study was the connection between all that was going on during a certain period of time of history (politics, religion, economics, and etc.) and what we were seeing in the important artworks of that period. Not only that, but also the connection between what we saw in visual art (paintings and sculptures) and the other art mediums (music, theatre, architechture, and literature). The art of each period both reflected what was happening and drove history forward.

That class planted in me a seed which has grown over time to bear much fruit of thought. Here is the root of it: In creating art, no matter the medium, artists express themselves through what they create. It cannot be otherwise. It is inherent in that act of creation itself that artists express who they really are, what they see, what they think, what they feel, and how they’ve experienced the world around them. In expressing these things, they influence the world around them and they drive the action of this Great Story.

This morning, in this chapter-a-day journey, we make our way to Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus living in Rome, heart of the Roman Empire and epicenter of western civilization at the time. Today, art historians flock to Rome to see remnants of the ancient city with its architecture and artwork. The people Paul wrote to were surrounded by it as it was happening all around them, and to them he wrote this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The creator revealed themselves in what was created. The Genesis poem says that humans were created in the image of the Creator. Just as Van Gogh painted the unique way he saw light and color, just as Bach channeled his love and understanding of mathematic order and the woven details of the universe into his music, just as Shakespeare expressed the tragedy of everyday humanity in the gilded trappings of man-made royalty, so God the Creator expressed  the light, energy, life, beauty, and power of their person(s) in all creation.

In the quiet this morning I’m pondering how through much of my journey I’ve viewed faith and science as living entrenched in their “either, or” camps like the armies of World War I dug in for the long haul, reduced to hurtling grenades at one another across no man’s land. At least, that’s the perception I’ve had from what has been presented to me by media who like to simplify complex issues into simple binary groups in conflict (it sells more). As I’ve proceeded in my journey I’ve met many fellow sojourners who could be easily labeled as a members of either trench, but who have wandered out into no man’s land. They observe and study and appreciate this cosmic work of art still expanding outward, still creating, still reproducing life, and  they’ve come to a “yes, and” realization, just as we did in Professor Thompson’s Art History class.

That’s where Paul begins his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He starts with the expansive canvas of the cosmos through which the Creator expresses self. From the mystery of the cosmos Paul will dive into the mystery of being human, and how he sees the Creator has interacted with creation in the Great Story.

“Wait for it…”

Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 42:7 (NIV)

Just yesterday I was reading a fascinating article about Peter Wohlleben the scientist and forester who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees. How fascinating to find that Tolkien’s characterization of trees as living characters is more true than I ever thought possible. Science is discovering that trees connect to one another through a vast underground network. Trees act communally, share resources, communicate danger to one another, and care for their young. The more I learn about creation, the more amazed I am by it and our Creator.

Take time and space, for example. I, like most people, have spent most of my life journey stuck in the paradigm of time being flat and linear. Physicists (thank you, Einstein), have come to understand that both time and space bend. There is far more dimension to it than a linear plane. Depending on the school of thought to which one prescribes there are at least 10, perhaps 11 or even 26 dimensions of space and time. This does not shake my faith any more than Galileo’s discovery that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Rather, it only expands my faith to consider and discover new facets of Life, Spirit, and eternity.

In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, the armed contingent who rescued the captives of the governor’s house in yesterday’s chapter have decided to head to Egypt. They are afraid that when the King of Babylon finds out about his Governor’s assassination that head’s will literally roll. Before leaving, they decide to ask Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord what Word He has for them. Jeremiah agrees to do so, and the Word comes to Jeremiah ten days later.

Ten days. Why ten days? Why not immediately? Was there something wrong with Jeremiah’s antenna or spiritual satellite dish? Were solar flares creating signal interference? What’s up with having to wait ten days?

As I meditate on this question there are two major thoughts that come to mind.

First, the number ten is not without significance in the Great Story. It is a number of completion. Ten commandments, ten plagues, ten generations, ten as percentage of tithe, ten lepers, ten virgins, ten talents, and etc. So, the contingent having to wait ten days has spiritual weight. Would the fearful contingent display the completeness of faith to wait for God’s word from Jeremiah, despite the pressure of knowing Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath could arrive before then? The ten days was, perhaps, less about God being out on a coffee break, and more about the revealing of the contingent’s heart and motives.

Second, I have found along my own spiritual journey that the concept of time and season described by the author of Ecclesiastes (see Ecclesiastes chapter 3) is far deeper than mere poetry. In the complex fabric of time and space (which is far beyond my comprehension) there seems to be a spiritual weaving of circumstances, events, and places into the tapestry of the Great Story. Things happen at a particular time and place in our journeys. We call them happenstance, coincidence, and fortune. As a believer, I have faith that these things aren’t random. God exists outside of time, and I’m beginning to understand that our Creator has layered and bent time and space in ways my finite mind cannot imagine.

At the end of this morning’s chapter Jeremiah’s words suggest that by the time the Word from the Lord came to him, the contingent who asked for it were already packed for their escape to Egypt. How often has that been true in my own life? I say I want to ask for God’s guidance and direction, but my will was decided before I asked. I really don’t have the patience to wait for God’s time and season. The sand is slipping through the hourglass, baby. I can’t wait anymore. Gotta head on down the line. Gonna make something happen!

This morning I’m feeling the need to admit the impatience that has dotted my own journey’s story line. As I take the final sip from my first cup of morning coffee, I’m reminded that at times I will wait ten days, ten months, or ten years for God to reveal, speak, move, or act in the space-time continuum He’s created for the telling of the Great Story (and my place in it).

Rest…breathe…chill…relax…flow….

Wait for it….

“God makes all things beautiful in their time.” (Ecc 3:11)

“‘I See,’ said the Blind Man”

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced,and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
Zechariah 12:10 (NIV)

Ever notice that people have favorite sayings? My Grandma Vander Well, when struck by a realization, would always say, “‘I see,’ said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.” Wendy’s Grandfather used the same phrase though he had a different twist: “‘I see,’ said the blind man to the deaf dog when he picked up his hammer and saw.” We have a friendly, ongoing feud about which one is “right.”

If you regularly asked my dad how he is you’re likely to hear that he is “busier than a cranberry merchant” a phrase that originally was a variation of “busier than a cranberry merchant in autumn” (when cranberries are harvested). He also might say he is, “slower than molasses in January.

If you read the Jesus stories by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John you’ll find that Jesus also had a favorite phrase: “He who has ears, let him hear” which also occasionally included a variant of “Let he who has eyes see.”

Jesus explained to his followers on different occasions that truths He spoke of God’s kingdom were things that many (especially the most institutionally religious people, interestingly enough) didn’t understand. Though they had ears they didn’t hear it. Though they had eyes they didn’t see it. They heard the words and saw Jesus’ miracles but they were deaf and blind to what He was really saying and doing. Jesus invited all those who listened to his stories and watched what He was doing to open the eyes and ears of their spirit to see what He was really up to.

In our journey through the prophetic writings of Zechariah I’ve been noticing a pattern. There’s a theme that’s been coming across in the past few chapters. On the surface meaning of Zac’s prophecies he is addressing his people, at his time of history, in the circumstance he and they were experiencing. Buried in the words, however, there are little nuggets that don’t seem to fit neatly in Zac’s current circumstances but eerily preview key moments in Jesus’ story, a story that would take place 500 years in the future:

  • In chapter 9 Zechariah presents the King of the Jews “gentle, riding on a donkey” which aptly describes Jesus’ “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem the week before His death when the crowds shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
  • In chapter 11 Zechariah prescribes the “thirty pieces of silver” given to Judas to betray Jesus, blood money Judas threw back to the Chief priests and was used to buy a “potter’s field.”
  • In today’s chapter it happens again (see the verses pasted at the top of this post) as Zac clearly describes the crucifixion scene of Jesus (who claimed Himself to be “God’s one and only Son”) pierced by the Roman soldiers’ spear and mourned by His followers.

Interesting pattern, isn’t it? Just as God in creation buries fractal patterns in the seemingly random nature scenes we see around us all day long, so He buries patterns in the prophets poetry and the  patriarch’s stories that point to the design of a much larger story that He is telling across time. The patterns don’t appear on a cursory reading of the text any more than a cursory view of Jackson Pollack’s drip painting reveal the eerily exact fractal patterns of nature that he somehow was able to achieve in his seemingly chaotic and messy painting, yet “he who has eyes to see…”

This morning I’m thinking about layers. Layers of meaning prophecy. Layers of meaning in Jesus’ words and actions. Layers of meaning and design that have been buried in creation that eventually reveal themselves through the perceptive eyes, ears, words, and work of artists, physicists, writers, and philosophers.

I don’t want to go through this earthly  journey deaf and blind to the incredible things that God is doing all around me. I want the eyes and ears of my spirit wide open, perceptive, receptive so I can understand and experience more and more of what God is doing in this divine dance we call life. Then I can repeatedly honor Grandma Vander Well in my repeated realizations as I mutter: “I see said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.

But for right now I have to finish this post and get ready for my day. Because, you know, “I’m busier than a cranberry merchant in autumn.”

Eyes Open and Aware

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lordopened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:17 (NIV)

There was one summer back in my later high school days when I happened to pal around with a couple of guys who were in their early twenties. It just so happened that every time the three of us got together we found ourselves in circumstances in which we had opportunity to  help others. One afternoon we happened upon a boy who had just been struck on his bicycle by a truck. We sprung into action to try and help both the situation and the boy’s family as best we could. Another time we happened to show up at a nearby lake just as a child fell out of the boat near shore and we were able to dive in and help the boy to shore. Upon hearing of our string of adventures, the mother of one of my friends jokingly referred to our threesome as  “Angels Unaware.”

Throughout God’s message there is reference made to a spiritual dimension that exists all around us. We are, for the most part, completely unaware. There are multiple instances across the Great Story of people being visited by the divine, or by those from the spiritual realm. From the early chapters of Genesis in which Abraham receives three mysterious visitors to the visions of Revelation which, John chronicles, were revealed to him while he was “in the Spirit.” Paul speaks of being caught up to heaven “in the Spirit.” The author of Hebrews tells followers of Jesus to be hospitable to strangers because you never know when you might entertain “angels unaware.” Thus the moniker given to my trio of friends back in the day.

Here in the west our culture is one of science and reason. We tend to believe only what can be quantified by our physical senses and proven by science. I find it fascinating that science is now pushing into places that a generation ago would have seemed the make-believe world of science fiction. Physicists tell us that there are 10-11 facets, or dimensions, to what we perceive to be reality. In other words, there’s a whole lot more going on than that which our physical senses perceive. Fascinating. I find that not unlike what Elisha’s servant experienced in today’s chapter. There was a reality that existed in the spiritual dimension that he couldn’t see until his spiritual eyes were opened. The further I get in my journey the more I have come to believe that the lines between science and spirit is not as distinct or defined as many scientists and/or theologians would have us believe.

In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened….” I think that’s what happened to Elisha’s servant. I think that’s what happened to Jesus companions on the road to Emmaus. There are physical eyes that see things in the physical realm, and there are spiritual eyes that perceive things in the spiritual realm.

This morning I’m thinking about the spiritual realm and the eyes of my heart. I hope that as my physical sight continues to diminish that my spiritual sight becomes more acute. I pray that the eyes of my heart will be enlightened in unimagined ways that I may see things clearly that I once may have never perceived. Until then, I hope that my physical eyes will be more attuned to identify daily opportunities to be someone else’s “angel unaware.”

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

Embracing Truth Wrapped in Paradox

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
Isaiah 52:13-14 (NIV)

Creation is full of mystery.

After stumbling upon a couple of YouTube videos, Wendy and I spent some time this past week pondering a couple of mysteries that have baffled physicists about the Quantum world. In the “Two Slot Experiment” it appears that matter not only behaves in ways that defy reason, but it also behaves differently when we’re watching. In another experiment, two seemingly independent atoms at opposite ends of the universe can be entangled and determine the other’s behavior. In the mystery of Schrodinger’s cat, two seemingly independent realities exist at the same time (the Cosmos’ version of “Yes, And“).

I love mystery. Richard Rohr writes in his book, The Divine Dance that mystery is not something we cannot understand but rather something that we endlessly understand. We don’t capture the mystery, the mystery captures us.

All of creation is the expression of the Creator, including the mysteries of Quantum mechanics and Schrodinger’s cat. It is through the ancient prophet Isaiah that God will tell us (later this week in our chapter-a-day journey),

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Even Einstein understood that science and faith were not mutually exclusive, but enjoyed their own form of spooky entanglement . “Science without religion is lame,” he said, “and religion without science is blind.”

Today’s chapter is about redemption. God through Isaiah says in the early part of the chapter:

“You were sold for nothing,
    and without money you will be redeemed.”

At the end of the chapter Isaiah the seer slips into one of his prophetic “Servant Songs” about the coming Messiah, who will do the redeeming. In a mysterious paradox, the “exalted” Messiah suffers in horrific ways:

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—

Paradox and mystery. It is at the core of our understanding of God, the universe, and everything. This is not something of which I should be afraid, rather it is a reality that should both captivate and motivate me to reach further up and further in. It should be enjoyed and pursued. One is Three and Three is One. Two seemingly independent realities are simultaneously true, and two seemingly independent atoms are inexplicably entangled across the universe. Matter behaves differently when it is being observed. The ultimate Redeemer will be exalted, not through power and wealth, but through unbelievable suffering at the hands of those He created. My mind is capable of far more than I can possibly imagine with the fraction of it that I use, and if it were processing at 100% it would still fall infinitely short of the One (er, Three) who Created it.

This morning, I am embracing Truth wrapped in paradoxical mystery.

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Living in the Mystery

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great….”
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Both Taylor and Suzanna were home with us over the weekend so we had family movie night on Sunday evening and watched Interstellar. It was a fascinating yarn and made for some really interesting thoughts and conversation afterwards about time, space, relativity, dimensions, and humanity. On 60 Minutes, just before we watched the movie, Lesley Stahl did a piece on the supper collider scientists are using to try to scientifically explain things such as how spontaneous existence can happen.

I find it interesting that there are some things that are an elusive mystery, even to science which believes everything can be known, quantified, and explained apart from God. A few lines I pulled from the script of the 60 Minutes piece:

  • American physicist Greg Rakness showed us one of the four detectors where subatomic particles called protons ram into each other at nearly the speed of light to simulate conditions that are believed to have existed when the universe began. [emphasis added]
  • One of their biggest goals is shining a light on dark matter and dark energy which are among the great remaining mysteries of modern science and reminders of how little we know about the universe. [emphasis added]
  • We just didn’t find [black holes]. They still could be here. [emphasis added]

I find it strangely comforting that, when it comes to answering the great questions of life, people of science have mysteries that can’t be easily explained or quantified the same as people of faith.

Today, in the stillness of the autumn morning, I am asking big questions about faith, science, God, creation, time, and space. My mind ruminates and wanders through what both science purports and God’s message purports, and both roads lead to mysterious places. Some mornings I end my quiet time with more questions than answers. The further I get in life’s road, the more I am learning to enjoy the mystery.

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