I have been devouring science documentaries.
To me, studies of the natural world are better tools for studying “god” than sacred texts.
A Sacred text is a man’s attempt to put the inexpressible into words. Often those words are then translated. Sometimes the original words are even passed down several times before they make it into print.
Language is an amazing tool. But it is merely a tool. Remember in high school when your writing professor would repeat the mantra “Show don’t tell?”
Don’t tell me the flower was pretty, show me it’s beauty. Describe the colors and patterns and the play of the light.
But even the greatest poet could not accurately convey the baffling beauty of a orchid. Joyce Kilmer wrote long ago, “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…”
And this is the trouble with sacred words. They are all, essentially, poems about trees.
I don’t mean to argue their truth or value – only to point out the obvious limitations of words.
After reading a particularly vivid account of an experience – say surviving the Katrina floods – you might feel as though you had been there. But it would be incredibly naive to believe that you had the same experience as someone who was neck deep in water and fear.
Could you ever read enough about giving birth to reach an understanding of what that experience is like? Or having sex?
To me, studying science on a very surface level is not about understanding. I have no goal of learning the details of fusion or the intricacies of photosynthesis. Instead, the basic knowledge serves to pulverize into mush any lingering need my brain has of making sense of it all.
Understanding how it all works = impossible and stressful.
Surrendering to the infinitely complex order = calming and peaceful.
This is particularly helpful if you combine micro and macro learning. From microscope to telescope. From distant galaxy to inside my body. No mater how far my attention goes in any direction it never stops uncovering incomprehensible levels of order, chaos, drama, and interconnectedness.
The human drama with it’s adultery, career paths, and invention is no more complicated or important than than the drama of a marshland biosphere or a distant pulsar.
The universe is fractal-y amazing.
The more I watch COSMOS or the Discovery Channel, the more giddy I become with awe.
It seems to me that this awe and appreciation is immensely more important than understanding.
I can enjoy a roller coaster without understanding the physics. I just have faith that the track is constructed in such a way that it supports the speed, gravity, and torque of the ride.
I could read a book about how the ride should be ridden. I could follow the exact steps a legendary rider of the past took: Commandment 4: Thou shall not eat multiple corn dogs before riding. Commandment 5: Thou shall be taller than this sign. Commandment 6: On the sabbath, lines are longer so try to go mid-week. Etc..
The rules & descriptions can certainly be helpful. But they must be understood in their place. Too many people are reading the rules AS they are riding – so focused on the abstract that they are not enjoying the actual experience.
It may sound trite to suggest to someone that they stop to smell the flowers. But on the contrary, this is profound spiritual guidance.
For me, the natural world holds direct glimpses into the divine. Like a more literal biblical god, it is not something I can look directly at – it is simply too much for me to comprehend. But in every veined leaf I see the reflection of this divine order.
The ego wills of humans – my own included – disintegrate into comical naiveté.
In a universe so overwhelmingly miraculous – I have been given the ability to perceive it. My purpose is no more (or less) grandiose than any other piece of the cosmic puzzle. Whether massive star or tiny atom.
But what IS significant – more so than anything else that defines my existence – Is that I am able to perceive and ponder this miracle as it unfolds.
It is a unique human gift. And our appreciation of this gift defines our life and our relationships with all other life.
Of course, it is pretty ridiculous to try to explain all of this with words.
“I think that I shall never see…”
Dec 29, 2009