Today’s Word: Discovery

1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. SJG photo.

“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

This past weekend, Sue and I visited Washington, D.C., taking in some of the sights and museums. I usually enjoy just about any kind of museum, but I am often drawn to history and science museums because they present the discoveries and innovations of the world in such a graphic and accessible way. And whether some man or woman of the past conquered flight or disease, whether he or she discovered a new way of seeing the world, governing its people, harnessing the power of its natural resources or uncovering its ancient past to better understand our present, a museum gives us in a snapshot what a good book does in more depth over hundreds of pages. Both are important, of course, but a museum has the opportunity to grab our attention and nudge us toward the deeper end of knowledge. What we see in an exhibit can and should lead us to read, to research, to create, to think deeply and share with others.

The question that remains is “why?” Why study the past? Why look at an ancient piece of carved rock or an early Wright Brothers Flyer? Beyond our curiosity and perhaps our own deep desires to somehow do something to change the world, perhaps the answer lies in something a bit deeper. For those who profess a faith in a loving and creating God, perhaps it lies in our yearning to find a connection between our world, its innovators and their creations, and our faith and the God who creates and gives all.

Miniature flask from Central America, AD 600-900, on display at US Library of Congress. SJG photo.

I’ve been reading the letters of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French Jesuit priest and scientist who trained as a paleontologist and traveled and worked extensively in China in the early 20th century. He played a key role in the discovery of Peking Man, Homo erectus pekinensis, dated from roughly 750,000 years ago. Although some of his theological writings were censored by the Church during his lifetime (and although some of his anthropological observations about Mongolians and other rural Chinese as “savages” make me cringe), he has since come to be seen as a pioneer in the realm of scientific-spiritual thinking and inquiry. He and others helped us see that we could believe in the proofs and evidence of scientific and natural research and discovery while still holding fast to our beliefs in a Creator-God, an unmoving mover that set everything in motion. We could believe in Darwin and God, in evolution and faith.

In 1923, upon leaving a dig in southeast Ordos, he wrote to his cousin and frequent correspondent Claude Aragon’s:

“I am a little too absorbed by science to be able to philosophise much; but the more I look into myself the more I find myself possessed by the conviction that it is only the science of Christ running through all things, that is to say true mystical science, that really matters.”

We need science, both basic and applied. We need innovations that allow us to live healthier and more productive lives. We need technology that allows us to harness and harvest the energy and food we need in sustainable ways. We need men and women willing to step out from the rest of us to explore and discover our pasts and futures.

But we also need to rediscover the “energies of love” that will allow us to discover the reason for the fires in our bellies and change the world for the love of those with whom we share this earth.

Ask yourself in silence: How can I use the technologies and discoveries handed down to me to change the world?

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