Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Worldviews and Paradigms”

The Loving Eye

While prepping for my trip to Ireland last summer, I came across a book by the late John O’ Donahue. Entitled Anam Cara: a Book of Celtic Wisdom, the book considers the nature of friendship (anam cara translates as “soul friend”) and some of the gifts bequeathed to us by the Celtic tradition. The author describes what I would call the WYSIWYG way of wisdom: what you see is what you get. With echoes of Jesus (“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light”) and St. Augustine “(“our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye by which God may be seen”), O’ Donahue describes how our pattern of seeing the world around us shapes how we relate to the world around us. Think of it as an eye examination of the spiritual life, where our eyesight is tested against the 20/20 line of the great wisdom tradition and corrective lenses are offered to help us see more clearly whom we should be and the way we should go.

To the fearful eye, all is threatening.
To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed.
To the judgmental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames.
To the resentful eye, everything is begrudged.
To the indifferent eye, nothing calls or awakens.
To the inferior eye, everything else is greater.
To the loving eye, everything is real.

The Discipline of Ground-Truthing

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In the recent edition of The Regent World, there is an excellent little piece by professor Loren Wilkinson.  I share his fascination with maps, both ancient and modern.   As a child, I would study the Rand-McNally’s road atlas on our long trips to Kansas.  As an adult, I continue to enjoy reading about the history of cartography.  (A few weeks ago, I took the above photograph of the map room in the Doeg’s Palace in Venice). Like many other teachers, I have often employed the metaphor of mapmaking as a description of the human attempt to make sense of the world, to name the Mystery that is. 

Here’s an excerpt from Wilkinson’s article:

Maps reflect a distinction which  Martin Heidegger made clearly: between earth, which is the rich and inexhaustible mystery we humans encounter when we venture outside our cars, cities, and the regular lines of our maps, and world, which is the human meaning we necessarily map onto that mystery. We can’t help but surround ourselves with worlds of our own making….And we drag our innumerable worlds with us across the earth. These worlds (which our maps reflect) are sometimes a glory, sometimes a horror. So it’s good to keep checking the map against the territory. Map-makers use a lovely word to describe the essential discipline of checking the map they are making, however perfect and satisfying it seems, against the uneven ground of the earth it pictures: ground-truthing. They get away from the table, outside the car, and walk across the earth, which is always bigger, richer than the map. Maps are useful guides. But we need to keep checking them against the bumpy ground we walk on. The intertwined pleasures and dangers of maps are especially good to be aware of in a school of Christian theology like Regent: for theologies too are maps—human worlds imposed on the mysteries of God’s action. It is all too easy to become overly comfortable with our world of necessary maps. Perhaps, then, theological students—and professors—must, more than anyone, cultivate the discipline of ground-truthing.

Speaking of my alma mater, it’s almost time again for Regent College’s wonderful program of summer classes.  Each year, Regent hosts some distinguished visiting professors to teach a wide array of interesting classes.   This year is no different.

The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery

A few years ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers noted that someone living in 1905 would have more in common with Moses the patriarch than with someone living in our own time.  There have been so many sweeping changes in such a relatively short time that the past seems too distant to yield any valuable contributions to the present day. 

During my university studies, I would face this matter practically every day. On one side of College Avenue, I was involved in a campus ministry that emphasized returning to “New Testament Christianity”.  In fact, the ministry grew out of the historic Restoration Movement which sought to return the Church to its simple, first-century character. The idea was that the farther we get away from the origins of this great thing, the more corrupt or distorted it becomes.  When I crossed the street for my classes at Mizzou, the belief was reversed: the past was held suspect and the modern was privileged.  The idea was that our expanding knowledge and our newer cosmologies required that we also outgrow antiquated worldviews and have a more modern notion of God, sex, the human person, fill in the blank. 

image Early in the Christmas break I finally got around to reading New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery by Anthony Grafton.  It had been on my short list for the last two years.  The author explores how intellectual history changed in the wake of the European discovery of the “new world”.  Prior to that, people still held that authority principally resided in the ancient books.  For example, to discern the pattern of the heavens, you read Aristotle.  To make sense of the world that existed within the human body beneath the skin, you read the physician Galen.   For centuries, the assumption for many, if not most, was that a “complete and accurate body of knowledge already existed.”

Grafton shows how with new world exploration and the rise of scientific inquiry, scholars had to revise inherited paradigms, if not abandon them altogether.  In the new world after Columbus,

“the ancient texts continued to be read, translated, and admired, to provide the model genres for ambitious modern writers: epic, history, tragedy.  And belief in progress would not become universal in the West for a very long time; not even in the Enlightenment would it find universal assent…Those who knew the ancient world best – the professional scholars – took the side of the Modern in the Battle, arguing that the ancients had in fact known far less than moderns about nature, the surface of the world, and much else.  New standards of arguments – based, supposedly, on ‘facts’ rather than mere texts – played a larger and larger role in many fields.

The book is a tour de force as it relates to intellectual history, scholastic methodology, cartography and the nature of cultural encounter.  And it provides a wonderful background to our current debates about curriculum (see the recent New York Times article on making college relevant) and how the past should resource the present in areas of religious belief, social values and new technologies.  Highly recommended. 

Dawning of the Age of Aquarius and Aquinas

A conference was recently held in Vatican City to discuss astrobiology and the image implications that may arise from any future discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  Here’s an excerpt of the article:

The Church of Rome’s views have shifted radically through the centuries since Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600 for speculating, among other ideas, that other worlds could be inhabited.

Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system — including 32 new ones announced recently by the European Space Agency. Impey said the discovery of alien life may be only a few years away.

"If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs biochemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound," he said.

Similar discussions in 2005
This is not the first time the Vatican has explored the issue of extraterrestrials: In 2005, its observatory brought together top researchers in the field for similar discussions.

In the interview last year, Funes told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said in that interview.

"Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God’s creative freedom."

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