Tag Archives: science

7 September: A Cleaner River

 

cormorantAfter yesterday’s post from Margate which mentioned the cormorants in Rye, I thought we could borrow one from Will Turnstone’s more private and occasional journal. This was posted in 2017 after a visit to Lambeth Palace Library, in search of Arthur Hughes.

Today I walked from Waterloo to Lambeth beside a river confined by embankments, with light shipping passing by the Palace of Westminster and cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and tourists in both directions along the path, not all looking where they were going.

One thing I was hoping to see, but only saw when I wasn’t looking for it – a cormorant. Picture this big bird flying past the Houses of Parliament; I watched from the opposite bank.

In my youth anyone falling in the River might have died from poisoning. They even kept my little brother in hospital for observation after he fell into the Serpentine Lake in the park (and I had to go home on the bus in wet clothes after dragging him out).

There must be enough fish in the river to satisfy those greedy cormorants.

When my mother and I visited my 4 year-old brother in hospital on the following Friday he was happy to say goodbye when the time came. Dinner had arrived – fish and chips and it looked really tasty! He’s now a chef and still very fond of fish; and there are even herons along the Serpentine these days.

The citizen scientists of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were not least among those who fought and worked to clean up London’s River. Pray that we all may take courage to walk the next steps – and look where we’re going!

RSPB image, see here:

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6 September : Praying with Pope Francis

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Missio’s magazine, Mission Today, invites us to join Pope Francis and the whole Church in praying for his monthly prayer intentions, particularly on Fridays. We will try to share these intentions with you over the months. For September Pope Francis prays:

May  politicians, scientists and economists work together to protect the world’s seas and oceans.

The picture shows Margate in Kent, a seaside resort for some 200 years. It’s not a bad spot to contemplate the seas and oceans. The sea here once carried all manner of filth thrown into the Thames  upstream in London and other towns, while Margate pumped its own sewage and refuse a little way out to sea, ready to return on the next tide. 25 years ago I took a group of schoolchildren to investigate the new sewage works that put a stop to that. Now Margate has a blue flag which proudly announces that the water and sands are clean.

Furthermore, the cormorants we saw diving at Rye on 12 December  last year are also to be seen on London’s river, opposite the Houses of Parliament. It is possible for politicians, scientists and economists to work together to protect the seas and oceans, and we have our part to play, from what we throw away and how we do so, to young Abel litter-picking, to what we eat. In a land with universal suffrage, we are all politicians. We are all economists, at least when we loosen the purse strings; and scientists, if we stop to think about what we are doing. Unlike TS Eliot, at Margate sands we can connect something with everything,

Laudato Si!

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September 1: Devotion to truth is a devotion to God.

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Truth can be hidden in many ways. We can so easily convince ourselves that we are more important than we are. One example of this is street and even alleyway lighting: there is more of it than we need, and because LED lamps are so economical, councils are loth to risk the ire of people who want the lights on all night. But we don’t need all those lights!

We are none of us so important that we need lights on in our street all through the night, just in case we come home late. And the lights also get in the way of a humbling fact of life: we might realise that we are small, unimportant in the universe, if only we could see the stars!

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.                                    Psalm 8.

I’ve been saving these paragraphs on Astronomy to share with you, from the Vatican Observatory blog, Sacred Space. The writer is Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Observatory.

“Why does the Vatican have an Observatory?” That common question begs the bigger one, why anyone does astronomy. Contrary to what our culture preaches, astronomy doesn’t make you rich, powerful, or sexy. (Maybe that’s why my Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience felt so natural.) What astronomy does do, however, is give you the space to contemplate questions bigger than “what’s for lunch?”

Doing science is a way of becoming intimate with creation, and thus with the Creator. The urge to know the truth above all else is common to all scientists, even those who don’t recognize that their devotion to truth is a devotion to God. To me it is an act of prayer. 

Image from NASA

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14 June: Consider the flowers

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What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?

The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.

 

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It’s not altogether necessary to go on pilgrimage to appreciate the ‘flowers of the field’. (Matthew 6.26) I think that when Jesus encouraged us to consider them, he wanted us first of all to look about us, to look around our feet, on in Mermaid’s case, at or below eye-level; we have to protect our neighbours from her by careful use of secateurs.

But think of all those patient souls who have bred the varieties we love; their considerations went much further, looking at the future and how this or that rose might perform. Or the men and women working to refine the healing power of plants from around the world for the good of all.

Consider the flowers.

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February 26. Thomas Traherne XVIII: Our eyes must be towards the Cross.

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Our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. There are we entertained with the wonder of all ages. There we enter into the heart of the universe. There we behold the admiration of Angels. There we find the price and elixir of our joys.

As on every side of the earth all heavy things tend to the centre; so all nations ought on every side to flow in unto it. It is not by going with the feet, but by journeys of the Soul, that we travel thither. By withdrawing our thoughts from wandering in the streets of this World, to the contemplation and serious meditation of His blood sufferings. Where the carcase is thither will the eagle be gathered together. Our eyes must be towards it, our hearts set upon it, our affections drawn, and of thoughts and minds United to it. When I am lifted up, saith the Son of Man, I will draw all men unto me.

Traherne was able to reconcile science and faith with his remarks on gravity.

The Cross as the door of Mercy

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The Great British Bird Watch 2019

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We  had been looking forward to the Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.

The moorhen walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!

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Watching the Dunnocks

There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for two of us was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They could manage the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year.

What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird flapping his wings and frightening the others away.

Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!

. . .

On my next visit, the first bird I saw was a goldfinch, too late for the survey and too late for the other observers!

Our little contribution to the national survey was science in action. There was also wonder in action: you should have heard people marvelling at the subtle plumage of the dunnocks! And such wonder is prayer in action: Laudato Si! It helps to make it explicit sometimes, as at the end of the day. And to begin with a morning offering:

Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.

                                                                          W.H. Davies.

Photos: top MMB, below Przemek Florek

 

 

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December 15: Once we realised our mistakes…

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Professor Kate Bulinski is a paeleontologist at Bellarmine University in America. I wanted to share her guest blog at the Vatican Observatory website, as it challenges us to face up to our responsibilities to observe God’s Creation and our part in it – and to start to restore, renew and revive what we have unwittingly damaged. Here is a short sample from her post. Click on her name above to read it in full. A good Advent read. Let’s pray for the enthusiasm to carry on despite the odds, like these children, digging at Aberdaron beach, despite the rain.

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I sometimes ask my students to contemplate what the fossil record of the 21st century would look like. Would we have layers of sediment embedded with plastic debris and electronic waste? … What would future humans (or our evolutionary descendants!) have to say about this era of Earth history? And perhaps more importantly, what would God say about how we responded to the charge to care for creation and how we responded once we realized the mistakes we were making?

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

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The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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17 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVII: creation, redemption and salvation in evolution.

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Note what happened to Teilhard de Chardin – a Jesuit scientist specialising in Archaeology. He was captivated by the theory of Evolution and the various ways it might be tested. Because he was a deeply religious man, he felt driven to integrate what he was discovering from the natural sciences with his understanding of salvation in Christ. He meditated deeply on Paul’s writings and early Church commentaries on these. He developed a magnificent vision of the universe and all of history shot through with Jesus Christ. He saw creation, redemption and salvation woven together in the unified process of evolution.

He suggested that through time, inanimate [dead] matter is drawn into such complex patterns that it develops an inner spontaneity and there is a breakthrough into living things. At a further stage – a breakthrough into reflexive self-awareness – human beings. After this, the process of evolution becomes conscious, when we know and project the goals we are striving for and the changes they are trying to make. Looking forward, the next breakthrough must be the immense unity of mankind bound together in relationships of knowledge and love – what he terms the Omega Point.

He next made a bold suggestion – not as a scientist but as a Christian believer – that we have a pre-view of the Omega Point – that the whole world is being drawn towards the second coming of Christ – which will be the breakthrough, the outcome of evolution – the Church, because Jesus is already within history, which is striving towards its fulfilment, concluding with Paul that all things were made in Jesus Christ – who is the pattern of the world from the very beginning. The goal of evolution is the Christification of the world. [His thinking appears in his Phenomenon of Man, though is perhaps more readable in his The Divine Milieu – nature and grace].

When this first saw the light of day it raised concern because it sounded as if God’s self-gift to us is not a necessity for us but utterly free. In the Hebrew Scriptures the relationship between us and God was described in terms of a covenant, binding duties and sometimes as sheer favour shown us by God. Whatever God was bound to was always the result of his promise, having bound himself. The Jewish understanding of covenant always looks back to Creation as the setting-up of the covenant. It seems that God, having created humankind, has bound himself to bring us into his friendship.

AMcC

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England.

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26 August: Behind these doors …

 

On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.

Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.

Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.

In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.

The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!

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