Sorry to go blog-silent for a while. International events have once again intruded on the things I would have liked to write about. The change of administration in America has caught so much attention, mine included, that it is hard to write about anything else. But I haven’t forgotten that this is a science and religion blog, so I will try not to go too far off that theme.
Recently I attended the annual conference of Christians in Science, which took place in Oxford. The theme of the conference was miracles. There were several presentations, all of high quality, and discussion times. Since then I have been turning this subject over in my mind.
[image from https://www.instapainting.com/requests/56455ed390f1f8204b8b45c7]
In this post I want to offer a short definition of the word ‘Theism’. I think I am some sort of theist, but I find that most of what is written on the wikipedia page for this word is quite alien to me. It says there that theism is “the belief in the existence of …” where for the dots you can put some sort of entity called a ‘deity’. But that is not how it works in my experience, and that is not how a lot of careful thinkers and writers have expressed it. The thoughtful theist does not consider that there is another ‘thing’ to be added to the set of all things, after one has exhausted what there is in the physical universe. It might seem like that, but I find it to be more subtle and hard to describe. The one Whom we learn to encounter is not ‘another thing’ but that which makes all things possible. As I say, it is rather subtle and quite open-ended.
This post is to complete a sequence about pain and suffering and how we respond. I didn’t want to leave this as a purely philosophical issue. Indeed the substance of my last post was that this is not an area that is correctly addressed that way. Our practical response is more important than any philosophical point-scoring. So here I will first briefly repeat the conclusion so far, and then add a final point.
But the silence in the mind
But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.
It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?
by R.S. Thomas, from the collection Counterpoint, 1990
image: Prayer by Graham Dean, see http://paintingandframe.com/prints/graham_dean_prayer-8947.html
We have to abandon all claims to know, and opt instead for the choice of seeking to learn, admitting that we have much to learn, and humble enough to allow that seeking to learn can include, yes, simply asking.
Here is my lovely sign of hope.
It will sound impossible, but bear with me.
It is everywhere, but you will not find it
by looking at any particular place.
It is far from you but also close,
as close as you are to yourself.
It is not on the map, and you will
not find it by digging, nor by sending
up balloons to assay the sky.
It is nowhere but everywhere, yet
in each place you can find the whole of it.
All this, because it is not a location
but a direction. It is not a place you
can claim but a way to look.
image from http://wildlifesnaps.com/search_results.php?species_common=Martin,+House
Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford, Ireland. September 20th, 2009.
A poem by R.S. Thomas:
Summer is here.
Once more the house has its
Spray of martins, Proust’s fountain
Of small birds, whose light shadows
Come and go in the sunshine
Of the lawn as thoughts do
In the mind. Watching them fly
Is my business, not as a man vowed
To science, who counts their returns
To the rafters, or sifts their droppings
For facts, recording the wave-length
Of their screaming; my method is so
To have them about myself
Through the hours of this brief
Season and to fill with their
Movement, that it is I they build
In and bring up their young
To return to after the bitter
Migrations, knowing the site
Inviolate through its outward changes.
R.S. Thomas, included in R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: 1945-1990
Held by an image of our outer space:
Spots, dots, and whirls of white and red,
Time-tunneling in silent grace,
Parsecs where only thought can tread.
Blue blazes of the younger fire,
Red smudges of the ancient mist,
Vast mergers of the flowing gyre
Down ages of the world persist.
These distant forms of space and truth
Work back upon the thoughts we frame;
Prayer puzzles through a shaping sieve:
Dead words or else a larger name.
Still, quietly ask the teeming sky:
Draws over there that which can love?
Lights there a dance which can rejoice?
Rests there a hold of things above?
The New Mariner
In the silence
that is his chosen medium
of communication and telling
others about it
in words. Is there no way
not to be the sport
of reason? For me now
there is only the God-space
into which I send out
my probes. I had looked forward
to old age as a time
of quietness, a time to draw
my horizons about me,
to watch memories ripening
in the sunlight of a walled garden.
But there is the void
over my head and the distance
within that the tireless signals
come from. An astronaut
on impossible journeys
to the far side of the self
I return with the messages
I cannot decipher, garrulous
about them, worrying the ear
of the passer-by, hot on his way
to the marriage of plain fact with plain fact.
This poem by R. S. Thomas was originally published in Between Here and Now (1981) and can be found in Collected Poems: 1945-1990, R. S. Thomas.