Mrs. Harbor’s Delicate Boats

by | Feb 16, 2019 | Making God Relevant Again

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.