A Five Year-Old’s Shout to God

One summer evening when I was five, I went to my room. The window was open. The air was still, and there was the occasional yellow smudge of a lightning bug in the darkness, out there in the yard.

Occasionally, a small beetle would fly into the window screen with a plunk. The light was turned off in my room, and I stood there in the dusky glimmer, my bare feet aware of the wooden floor. My bed was near the open window.

For a while, I observed the tiny yellow lights, fascinated with how they lit and glowed, dipped down, then up, then disappeared.

That summer evening when I was five, I had just asked my mother how we might communicate with God.

In Sunday School, I was fascinated with the story of the biblical prophet, Samuel. He was a boy like me when, one night while he was resting in his darkened room, he heard God calling his name.

And each Sunday I listened as the pastor at our church reminded us that Jesus will return someday, and I would go to my mother for answers.

She was a firm believer that each one of us can and should daily communicate with Him. I still remember her words.

She said, “We should be very still and reach out to Him with our most honest thoughts.”

“Maybe I should pray to ask Jesus to come back,” I said. My mother had fascinated me with her descriptions of what an exciting occasion that would be.

So I padded barefoot to my room, stood breathing, a little scared for what I was about to do. I watched the lightning bugs, listened to the crickets, felt a breath of breeze from the open window. Maybe even this was the breath of God?

I threw myself flat on the bed and cried out with my entire being—not in spoken words but with silent, yearning words pushing deep inside. With such desperate force, I pushed these words out toward what I sensed in the intricate mystery of the mountain night outside my window.

“Come back NOW, I shouted from a place deep inside myself.”

In my mind, this was a message to Jesus and to God.

I will always remember the immediate, powerful glow I felt burst deep within me then. It was as though the sun had just come out from behind the clouds and had somehow focused all its best, warmest, most joyous rays upon me.

So, yes. I had begun to be aware of this presence, even in my misery at kindergarten when I didn’t understand the activity book directions and felt shame for the messiness of my work. Or I felt confused when a sudden rage swept over me after Roger, proclaiming himself to be cowboy star Roy Rogers, poked me in the nose with his fist, and I immediately jumped him, grabbed by a rage I didn’t understand.

Throwing myself face down on my bed and saying, “Come back NOW” was the best I could do to follow my mother’s advice to reach out to God with my most honest thoughts.

I will never forget my five year-old year and the night I threw myself face down on my bed, there in the dusky light, listening to crickets and the tap of beetle bugs flying into the window screen, smelling the scents of hay and grasses, and mesmerized by the dip and rhythms of the lightning bugs as their tails lit yellow when they were rising on the current of the air. I will never forget that powerful rush of intense joy in response to my desperate plea to God, reaching out the best way I knew how.

That experience set me on a lifelong quest to experience the presence of God and the reality that we can each of us reach with this instinctive part of ourselves and literally touch this presence, this entity.

Sadly, today it is increasingly rare that people in our culture even believe this is true. We are losing it.

Have you had a similar experience of inner joy? You may have identified it with a connection with God like what I describe here. Or perhaps you have experienced something similar but you don’t necessarily attribute it to God. I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment!

Mrs. Harbor’s Delicate Boats

I remember Old Central School in Middlesboro, KY with its high ceilings and tall windows looking out on a playground covered in tiny rocks. Cinders from the coal furnace that heated the school in winter were scattered near rusted oil drums converted to trash barrels.

On this day in late September, yellow jackets hover around those trash barrels, drawn to the sweet sap of discarded apple cores. Back then, many students brought juicy red apples to munch at recess.

Is it just me, or were apples juicier back in the 1950’s?

Yes, I think they were. I remember apple juice dribbling down my chin out there on the cinder-strewn playground. Anyway, it is one of those afternoons in late September. The atmosphere is warm and comforting, not hot, but with a depth of thoughtful warmth, as though the world has paused to breathe near the end of summer, reflecting on all the years there have been.

Perhaps reflecting on us, the strangers we must seem. Human creatures, bipedal, who have sprung up so recently in the history our world, this planet, Earth.

After recess, during Science class, our teacher, Mrs. Harbor, stands before us, gently smiling.

“Who knows the shape of the Earth?” she asks. “Have you ever thought about that before?”

I can still see in my mind the blonde-haired girl, Judy, who nearly always sprang quick as a hare to the challenge of one of the questions Mrs. Harbor would ask.

To me, it is as though our teacher’s questions are delicate little boats set in the water for us to admire, awed as one of them drifts out upon a pond.

Judy raises her hand, “Why, surely the Earth is round, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Harbor lets Judy’s answer hang in the air. We know she is thinking one of us might have a different answer. But Judy’s answer seems right. Hadn’t we just talked about Columbus before recess and how he proved that the world is not flat?

Mrs. Harbor does not say Judy is wrong, but she entices us with the latest theory scientists have just come up with.

“Yes, the Earth is round,” she says. “But scientists now believe it is not perfectly round. Perhaps it is more like this.”

Mrs. Harbor steps to the slate chalk board and with one quick, sure motion creates something that is not quite a circle. It is more elliptical, somewhat higher at the North and South poles.

But that is the world I was in back in Fifth Grade. Back in the 1950’s, before astronauts, before we had seen our world from above. Just a few years later, though, I felt a jolt of excitement to see a flier at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park seeking candidates to become astronauts. I wished I could be one, but I thought it more reasonable to believe I could become an archaeologist.

Though I became neither an astronaut nor an archaeologist, I continue to be drawn to Science, and especially to physics and astrophysics. I respect the scientific method.

I do believe, however, that our assumptions about who we believe we are as human beings require a re-examination. And you, just being a citizen of our era, are likely to immediately ask me why. Ours is an era where the emphasis on Science and its method trains us to ask why, to demand proofs we can quantify. That is, we acknowledge what can be identified, proven scientifically. We are skeptical of what cannot be quantified.

Though part of me would prefer to answer the why with a stubborn child’s just because, I realize that such an answer is not appropriate. It is with some reluctance, therefore, that I state here that the why involves our glib dismissal of our spiritual capacity as a crucial element of who we are and what we are becoming.

And why you ask, do I have a child’s reluctance to bring a spiritual element into this discussion?

Why, it is because one of the assumptions of our culture is that the spiritual, especially in the context of this entity we refer to as God, is neither quantifiable nor worthy of scientific examination. For this reason, many today dismiss the idea of God out of hand as superstition. It is a badge of a past when people didn’t know any better.

I propose a blog and a series of books which challenge our skepticism about the existence of this entity we call God and begins to suggest a means of quantifying the existence of this entity and how our learning to explore it—even scientifically—is crucial to our understanding of who we are and what we are becoming.

No, I am not an astronaut, astrophysicist, archaeologist. Perhaps that doesn’t matter as much you might think. This is because part of our re-examination of who we are as the human species must involve a rethinking, a new approach to the scientific method. Not to dismiss what we have struggled to work out, but to figure out how to add an acknowledgment of our admittedly messy, often awkward spiritual capacity and how it must be factored into our scientific approach.

Certainly, I realize such a proposition sounds outrageous to many highly trained, scientific minds of our era. At first blush, it is inconceivable, perhaps. However, in the blog that I begin here and the series of books to follow, I will attempt a start.

The enormous task of beginning to re-examine our assumptions about who we are in relation to this entity that has pursued us since our first appearance here upon this planet is not a task for only one era. Humans pursue enormously challenging issues across centuries and even millennia.

Someone, though, must throw down the gauntlet, suggest the idea. I attempt to do so here, hoping that—though my ideas may be rejected by the best minds of our time—they might eventually inspire some future generation to step back and begin to examine my ideas in the context of working out who we are and what we are becoming in relation to this entity that has pursued us always. It is the entity we refer to as God. We err when we dismiss this entity as a relic of our superstitious past.

Like many scientists who study natural phenomena, I have a dog-eared notebook of my findings, my description of the experience of this entity. I call these my Field Notes, which will be the name I give to this blog.

LEGO Titanic

 

 

I was assigned to our Discovery Gallery for a few hours yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with our guests about the 26-foot long, 56-thousand-piece Lego ship.

Built by Brynjar Karl, an autistic ten-year-old from Iceland, the ship is an inspiring tribute to human achievement.

I was surprised with how open our young guests were in their admiration of the accomplishment. Two boys were visiting from Houston, and they told me they were getting ideas for their own projects. They have built a much smaller Titanic and plan to make a film featuring it.

“But this . . .” said the older of the two, gesturing with his hands toward Brynjar Karl’s magnificent Titanic.”

He trailed off, just shaking his head in wonder.

His brother made me laugh when he said, “And I thought my Lego Death Star was something.”

I had fascinating conversations with many of the adults, as well. One man shared his own experience with his autistic granddaughter. He told me of how she loves to read and has stacks of her favorite books.

“Sometimes at bedtime I’m reading to her and I think she’s already asleep, and I’ll skip ahead. The other night she opened one eye, took the book from my hand and turned back to the place where I had been reading before skipping.”

After we chatted a bit more about how special these autistic children are, he looked thoughtful and said, “You know, maybe we’re the ones with challenges.”

In other words, we who assume we’re the normal ones are perhaps comparatively less in many ways.

Certainly autism often comes with enhanced abilities.

I very much enjoyed my several hours sharing Brynjar Karl’s Titanic with our guests. Such proofs of what is possible call to something deep within each of us. The Lego Titanic is a fitting conclusion to a tour of Titanic Museum Attraction, which showcases a major accomplishment for society in the early years of the Twentieth Century, more than a century ago.

 

Penguins, Sharks, Treasure

Dressed as First Class passenger Col. Archibald Gracie, I awaited the frisky group at the Map, which is the first gallery in our world-class museum. And yes, frisky is the word. There were two children skipping, pirouetting, humming what sounded like the theme from Walt Disney’s Frozen.

There was a dark-haired little girl of maybe five years trotting beside her younger brother, whose name she later confided in me was Cody, though I never did learn the girl’s name.

But yes, I suspected this would be one of those delightful groups when the dark-haired little girl suddenly stopped and flung her arms wide as though embracing a wondrous something too amazing at first to even identity. But then, she did identify it exuberantly.

“Oh, Mommy, look”, she exclaimed, “Oh, it’s a treasure chest!”

Brother Cody approached it cautiously, with the reluctance of a born skeptic. He looked almost scientific as he eyed it, not yet willing to concede. I could see it in his face. His sister might be a year or so older, but he watched her with the understanding that she was prone to absurd pronouncements and perhaps needed his steady consideration of the thing before confirming that an actual treasure chest could have been on the Titanic.

“Yes, I said, smiling at the girl and her little brother. “it does look like a treasure chest, doesn’t it?”

I explained that it is like a big suitcase that people of more than a hundred years ago used when they took a voyage across the ocean. Known as a steamer trunk, it was definitely onboard Titanic. It belonged to a Third Class passenger.

The Titanic broke in two before sinking, and this trunk was one of thousands of items that fell out of the ship as it was sinking.

“Those items that could float were bobbing around on the surface. Recovery ships were immediately dispatched to clean up what was then considered a dangerous mess. The debris field went on for miles.”

Cody stood before me with a stern expression, his eyes fixed upon me. Meanwhile, his dark-haired sister discovered something to fiddle with on her sneaker

I began to tell of Titanic’s voyage, which started in Southampton, England.

“April tenth, 1912,” I said. “One of those days when you can just feel the excitement. It was a celebration, the first day of the first voyage of the great Titanic.”

That’s when the dark-haired little girl popped up, bumping against brother Cody, who let out an offended moan, turning to his parents, his facial expression suggesting –without words–the idea: did you see what she just did?

His sister, unperturbed, stood on tiptoe, raising her hands as she exclaimed, “I just love penguins!”

Others had come over to join the group by now, smiling and nodding at the dark-haired girl’s excited proclamation. The parents looked at me apologetically, leaning forward to whisper for the girl to just listen.

But that was my cue to grab this sudden reference to penguins and weave it into the presentation. After all, hadn’t Col. Archibald Gracie, the passenger I was pretending to be, resembled a penguin out there on that night, balancing atop a capsized lifeboat?

“How interesting that you would mention penguins,” I said. That reminds me how I had to stand on capsized Collapsible Lifeboat B with my arms out like this . . .”

I held my arms out to either side.

“. . . on the capsized lifeboat where I and thirty other men stood like penguins as we tried to balance on top of that overturned lifeboat as the Titanic was sinking.”

And I nodded to the guests who had just joined the group.

“Col. Archibald Gracie,” I informed them, “was washed off the sinking Titanic by a wave, was able to reach a capsized lifeboat known as Collapsible Lifeboat B, and stood like this—arms out to side—balancing for hours with thirty other men until the Carpathia arrived.”

The Carpathia was the first ship to arrive in response to the distress call. It arrived around 4 a.m., an hour and forty minutes after the Titanic sank.

I then returned to the Map, tracing the route from Southampton, to Cherbourg, to Queenstown, and from there to where the lookouts called down to the Navigating Bridge, Iceberg Right Ahead.

That was when the dark-haired little girl, who seemed lost in thought about penguins, looked up expectantly.

“Sharks?” she cried, her voice rising. “There were sharks?”

Apparently when I said Iceberg right ahead she heard not Iceberg but shark. Such an exuberant child, such imagination. I noticed that brother Cody had adopted a look of resignation. He caught my eye with an expression as if to convey the idea of his long suffering in the face of her outbursts. It was as though he were saying she’s always like this.

“Oh,” I said. “Yes, maybe sharks. Just maybe, but we really don’t know for sure.”

I was not surprised to see that the group at the Map seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the dark-haired little girl, and now they were smiling at her little brother, who had begun to nibble the lower right-hand corner of his boarding pass.

These children, though. Each one such an effervescing package of promise, creativity, and potential. They and their families are living proof that we have so much in common with Titanic passengers, which included one hundred thirty-three children and their families—the same surge of new life and the ever-present hope and plans that define us now just as they did more than a hundred years ago.

In truth, this ever-present surge is always with us, reminding us of the effervescing rhythms of the sea, of the constant movement of surf as it bubbles and stretches up a flat beach. Just as it always has in every era of human history, and long before humans were here.

We are part of this eternal cycle. The Titanic allows us to look from the perspective of a hundred years or so ahead of Titanic’s era, feeling this ever- present tug as we consider just how closely Titanic passengers resemble who we are now, in our own time. As a matter of fact, we today, and Titanic passengers in 1912, resemble all humans who have ever struggled toward life upon this planet, Earth, where our species was first begun.

 

Titanic—Reaching Toward the Future

Titanic Museum Attraction guests and I often reach out together through imagination. For a few moments we linger at the port in Southampton, England, pretending that we are Titanic’s first passengers waiting for the great ship to appear.

There is a ripple in the crowd as the first among us catch a glimpse of the Titanic steaming toward us with a calm, magnificent pace, growing ever larger as it approaches.

“Imagine,” I say to our guests, “how overwhelming it is for citizens of 1912 to catch their first glimpse of a vessel that dwarfs previous ships. Titanic is nearly twice the size, and she has a new, futuristic design.

“We would have to imagine our reaction today to something that suddenly appears on the Parkway outside our museum. Something beyond our experience.

“It seems to have sailed right off the page of a sketch completed by an artist who imagines some new technology of the future. For people of 1912, however, it is not a sketch. It is the actual, physical representation of that breathtaking new idea of what the future will hold.”

Electricity is another exciting technology that causes Titanic passengers to feel swept into the future.

Today, we seldom think about how the abundance of electricity onboard Titanic creates such a dizzying effect.

It is worth noting that today’s technology has come so far that we have become numb to technologies that—though they thrilled the world a hundred years ago—are commonplace today.

Electricity was not universally available in 1912. There were even parts of America that did not have electricity until later in the twentieth century. For many of Titanic’s passengers—including the Irish and the Eastern Europeans—Titanic might be their first experience of electric lights.

Think of that!

The Titanic has four massive electric dynamos producing more electricity than many power plants of the early twentieth century. There are ten thousand lights, and they emit a cleaner, brighter light than most people are accustomed to in 1912.

No wonder passengers feel as though they have been swept decades ahead into the future!

Even passengers in First Class and Second Class do not take electric lights for granted.

No doubt, White Star Line is aware of how light can dramatically affect how we perceive our world. Perhaps this explains why the company sought out new glass for the famous dome. This skylight overarches the top of the ship. Visible from A-Deck, the dome features milk glass.

Previous ships included similar skylights. However, earlier skylights tended to be stained glass, which produces a darker light. White Star Line wanted a clean, clear light. Milk Glass translates daylight so that it presents a fullness and clarity not seen until the Titanic.

“Can you imagine,” I ask our guests, “the sheer wonder of entering the A-Deck of the Grand Staircase? Certainly, there is impressive elegance. Shimmering crystal chandeliers, for example. And the balustrades are hand-carved woods. Twenty-four karat gold-leaf covered medallions catch the eye, and much more.

“But a fullness of light surpassing anything you’ve experienced on a ship, much less in your home. It is nearly a physical blow to your senses.”

And yes, even at night the ship glows everywhere with its thousands of clear lights. Even the Grand Staircase skylight is backlit with electric lights at night or on cloudy days. This is a dramatic accomplishment for 1912. Only the Titanic, with its four huge electric dynamos, can assail the senses with such wondrous light.

But it does seem that we humans, in every era, become dull and numb with the technologies of the past. These technologies thrilled when they were new. However, they seem ho-hum today.

Size is another factor. What might have been enormous a hundred years ago does not overwhelm us today. We require larger and larger creations before we are awed.

Our guests, for example, sometimes express the opinion that our Grand staircase is smaller than they expect it to be. We did use the original blueprints, though. Our staircase is precisely the same size.

Our modern ships dwarf the Titanic. Modern cargo ships, for example, are like floating islands in the sea.

Who knows what the future will bring?

It may be, however, that the Titanic inspires us less for its technology than for our universal longing in every era to reach toward this something we sense just beyond our outstretched fingers.

Today, more than a hundred years after Titanic inspired the world, we sense a vast ocean of Time. It is as though we are riding the swells of the ocean just as the Titanic did in April of 1912. We are always stretching, always reaching.

Perhaps the most significant territory that remains to be discovered in our future involves ideas of who we are as humans and what we are becoming. In every era we create our great ships, our wondrous new technologies. We reach toward new adventures, new wonders, and unexplored frontiers.

A Cross-Section of Evolving Humanity

As I experience the full range of Titanic Museum Attraction, which for me includes the guests, the people, the human beings of our day, I cannot help myself. I return to the idea that we have much in common with all those humans who have lived before us on this fragile planet with its delicate ecosystems, atmosphere, and the oceans that we have barely even begun to explore.

One fact concerning the Titanic that we usually do not discuss or think about involves the beginnings of how our species has damaged the oceans. It appears that all the waste products, the sewage, was simply discharged from the Titanic—and other ships—into the sea. Today, most of us would cringe at the thought. I hope that we are becoming more aware. And yet, sadly, one part of what we have in common with humans of the Titanic’s era is this pesky tendency to pollute.

No, ships today do not discharge sewage into the oceans. Or at least they’re not supposed to. However, we are polluting the oceans in all sorts of ways. If I were to put a finger on what it is that defines us in every age, it would include this tendency not to care about how we are damaging the fragile ecosystems of our planet.

Or, perhaps we do care on one level. But then our eagerness to have what we feel we need surpasses whatever caring we have. Isn’t it interesting that our drive to reach beyond ourselves, to explore and to achieve new knowledge, technologies, and abilities often damages our planet? We are like eager, precocious and reckless children in our impatient, self-centered rush toward the exhilarating new frontiers that we discover in every era.

And of course, the Titanic is a symbol for that stretch, that rush forward. There it is, magnificent, a thing of breathtaking beauty, a new design that suggests the future and new, thrilling technology for its day.

Another part of this sense of the stretch forward includes the movers and shakers who were part of Titanic’s maiden voyage. Many of these wealthy men would gather in the First sClass smoking room, snipping off the ends of fat cigars before lighting and puffing them.

We should not ignore First Class women, many of whom were pushing back against the limitations placed upon them by expectations of the day. Women were put on pedestals and admired for their beauty. the implicit message of the day, however, was that women should allow the men to dominate the professions, politics, government.

Women could not even vote in 1912. Among the women on board were Margaret Tobin Brown and Helen Candee, just to name two, who were beginning to prod these men, secure in their manly kingdoms, their clubs of privilege. Margaret Brown, a.k.a. the Unsinkable Molly Brown, ran for the U.S. Senate—a woman candidate even before women had the right to vote. Helen Candee wrote what was for the time a scandalous book for its day: How Women May Earn a Living.

Certainly, the twentieth century began a significant revolution where women are concerned. It was in the Titanic era often referred to as Women’s Suffrage. Later it was simply the Women’s Movement.

But that is another of the human markers that define us. In every age, our attitudes and assumptions are shifting. We hope we are growing more mature, more perceptive, less conceited and selfish. Whatever strides we make come with great battles, upheavals. Perhaps they are growing pains.

The Titanic was, indeed, the floating palace Bruce Ismay and Lord Pirrie initially set out to build. but it was also a floating cross-section of evolving humanity. In this collection of humans from the poorest to the wealthiest, we see ourselves. Titanic is a snapshot of who we were then, which is not so different from who we are now: all our wrinkles, blemishes, and warts as well as the best of what we are striving to become. And that is a large part of why the Titanic continues to fascinate us today.