That Which Boggles
I received the email from my friend the science teacher on Darwin’s Birthday. He was expressing admiration for Quakers. He had read a bit by some British Friend stating that Quakers had no quarrel with Mr. Darwin or the Theory of Evolution. He was impressed, and was telling me so. I accepted his kudos and for the sake of integrity stated that there were some Friends who might not have much truck with Darwin, but that I was not one of them.
My friend is no kind of religionist. He is intelligent, gentle and kind. He is tolerant of those like me who live their lives in conversation with what I am sure he thinks of as an elaborate imaginary friend called God. But he feels no need of such supernatural supports.
Yet I am not sure that he and I have no common spiritual ground.
I think this because I have heard him describe what I would call a mystical experience, what early Friends would call an opening. He is a science teacher, secondary school. He came to it late after another career. He came to it because he had continuing and powerful experiences in the pursuit of science. I have heard him describe the experience of discovery of that which boggles the mind. He describes this experience with deep passion and obvious joy. He can describe being a good enough student, an attentive enough observer, that he reaches a plane where he bumps into truth so amazing that all the mind can do is boggle – gaze in rapt awe – try to accept what it can only incompletely comprehend. He describes the desire of all scientists to take that comprehension just one step farther than the boggle point. He calls this science. I, of course, have the same experience and call it religion. But I recognize that his science is one very fine religion.
The Worship of That Which Boggles has meetinghouses – classrooms and laboratories. It has rituals and methodologies. If you advance far enough you get vestments – lab coats and regalia. It has acolytes. My friend is there for the acolytes. He is the master of novices. He teaches all his students, but he watches for the nascent believers, the ones who get excited when they near the boggle point. And he is an evangelist. He actively attempts to introduce them to TWB. He knows that not all will be boggled – that only a few will pursue further bogglement - that fewer still will make it their life’s passion. But he scatters his seed widely and harvests where ever life sprouts.
His religion, like mine, believes in the doctrine of continuing revelation. That which we discern, and test, and live into will develop and change and grow as our understanding grows. We both believe in Truth, and we both believe it is blasphemy to claim that you have grasp of the entire truth.
I have worshiped at this altar. For me it was college and the double slit light experiment where light behaves like a brazen floozy, and shows you wave or particle depending on what you ask for. She cannot be both and yet she is. I have been boggled. I occasionally worship with the Bogglers still. Whenever someone will teach me at the Zen beginner’s level that I need. That is why I like to have my friend over for an ecumenical dinner, he is a fine preacher, and I happily sit under his preaching.
I believe that his Boggler and mine are one. I do work in a different department. The division of hearts and souls, tech support, specifically. I am but a lab assistant in the laboratory of sanctification. I help people when their work gets stuck. I know some best practices that produce reliable results. I help them check their numbers. I listen to their reports and give feedback. But once in a while I still get into that Holy of Holys of pure bogglement.
I have stood with souls who are despairing, screamingly suicidal, no hope, no comfort, no reason to live. They stand facing a precipice, contemplating an all or nothing experiment in permanent pain management. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them, but facing the other way - pointing towards life. What always amazes me is how these souls can be simultaneously and completely committed to opposing, contradictory aims. They want to die and they want to live. It cannot be both ways, but it is. I see wave, they see particle. And then if I am very blessed. In that moment of paradox, they take my hand and take one step away from the edge. Where the strength comes from to do this I do not know. But I know that I am boggled every time. And I know that my simple attention, my observation of their pain, changes something.
That is pastor Schroedinger’s sermon, I believe.
"My friend is no kind of religionist. He is intelligent, gentle and kind. He is tolerant of those like me who live their lives in conversation with what I am sure he thinks of as an elaborate imaginary friend called God. But he feels no need of such supernatural supports."
I vaguely recall a story Jesus told about some brothers who were asked to do something by their father. A couple of them said "We're ON it!" and then shrugged it off. One said "That's not my bag," but then he did what his father asked. If I remember rightly, Jesus felt more in common spiritually with the last brother.
In His Love,
I know that feeling too, even though I was not much of a scientist in school.
Plus Darwin's birthday is also my birthday, so I doubly celebrate.
As a long time science teacher and as one who has taught "faith and practice" (actually occupying an endowed Chair of Faith and Practice in a Friends School) I appreciate your comments and resonate with them.
However, I must share a concern I have had for some time now in reading your blog and reading the new "Faith and Practice" of Freedom Friends Church. Your name for your blog "A Silly Poor Gospel" is I believe referring to something which I am not sure you mean. I understand that a silly poor gospel could be describing the very simple, plain, and humble gospel as understood by Friends. However, the quote from Margaret Fell is talking about a "gospel" with which she disagrees and is saying is not true to Friends. The "silly poor gospel" she is speaking of is the belief that outward appearances, such as clothing of a specific kind or color, is dictated by the "gospel"being preached by some Friends at that time. I am not sure if you mean to identify with that "silly poor gospel."
In Peace and Friendship
Incidentally, those Quakers who have no argument with evolution as the process of creation are by no means alone in the Christian world. I think those who suffer the twin fundamentalist based errors of inerrancy and viewing the Genesis creation account as "history" rather than illustrative story are in the minority in the spectrum of Christian relligion, though it is a VERY vocal minority. Because that minority is so vocal the position of the rest of Christianity is often a surprise to those not versed in the spectrum of views.
In His Love,
Thanks. I will share your words with our meeting's Pastoral Care committee, who may find useful the way you describe the spiritual companioning you do.
Thanks for the comments.
Just for the record, the science teacher friend in this story has read and approved of my portrayal of him.
I suspect you are reading this on an rss feed, and not the actual site. where top and center you find this statement
"From a Quaker pastor presently parked in non-man's land on the Q continuum. I seek the full, undiluted experience of the Present Christ, and hope to never settle for anything less - what Margaret Fell Called A Silly Poor Gospel"
Red Maggie is my patron Saint.
please go to the archives and read the first post on this blog for a better explanation of why I chose the title.
It saddens me that a scientist would feel the need to especially appreciate Friends for their ability to embrace scientific theories. I live in an overwhelmingly Christian community in rural America and never met a Creationist until my first year of college. I was so surprised that at first I thought she was joking.
That Christians see a divine Source certainly does not mean they reject the scientific method. American history indicates both an intellectual and popular enthusiasm for science among liberal Christians especially after the mid-nineteenth century. The Origin of Species was introduced to the American population around the same time that popular books on biblical criticism became available. Not only is your friend's compliment indicative of just how loud the biblical literalist minority has become but also how unfamiliar the scientific community is with religion studies and the mainline liberal Christian community.
wow, i really want to share this with a whole bunch of people, because it expresses common ground so well, but i'm afraid somehow the act of sharing will seem too much like, "come over to MY SIDE!!!" thank you for being brave and writing lovely, loving things.Post a Comment
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