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Frozen bubbles and the mysteries of God

Faithpoint | Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Being a Notre Dame or St. Mary’s student means having to wrestle with two competing realities. The first of these realities is that, in the person of Jesus Christ, we seek to know the Logos, the Divine Word, or as so beautifully prefigured in Jewish Wisdom Literature, Sophia, the Divine Craftsperson, who sat beside the Creator as the world was birthed into being. It is this Jesus, as St. Paul writes, through whom and for whom our world was created, who ordered the world and to whom the world is ordered. So that, as Gerard Manley Hopkins inimitably poeticized: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

So, on the one hand, our world is Incarnational – God dwells within it; which means that, by delving into its depths – through natural and social sciences, through theology and philosophy, art and literature – we come to know God, and come to love God, and God’s creation. There is a wonderful image from the diaries of Hopkins, in which the Jesuit poet spends pages and pages describing the formation of air bubbles frozen in the lake outside his rectory. He sat on the ice and just stared, mesmerized by their frozen formation, and was convinced – perhaps as only a poet can be! – that these formations of suspended bubbles, if perceived with enough reason, imagination, and faith, would unlock mysteries about the God who created them. I find it a helpful image some days, as I sift through seemingly endless iterations of regression analyses derived from recent survey data for my current research on religion and politics in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, if I stare and ponder and imagine enough, I can come to know creation – and thereby the Creator – in beautiful ways.

On the other hand, and at the same time, we in pursuit of a “Catholic education” must contend with the stubborn reality that, as St. Paul writes, “The wisdom of God is foolishness to the wise.” Or, again more poetically, as Pascal said, “There are reasons of the heart of which reason is unaware.” The human person is much more than intellect alone. As educators and learners in the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross, we consciously seek to be formed in the heart as well as the mind, and to invite and persuade the heart and the mind mutually to form and inform one another. As Holy Cross’ founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, wrote, “We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven.”

Even more, as we seek to uncover the fingerprints of our Creator throughout creation, we never lose sight of that other Way – the Way of the Beatitudes and the Cross – revealed to us by our Creator’s Son, in which creation also becomes known through paradox. In Christ’s new creation, which is in no way opposed to God’s Creation and mysteriously enlivens it even as it disrupts it, the poor are rich, those who mourn laugh, and the ones who give their lives away in love gain the fullness of existence.

As seekers of the truth within a distinctively Catholic context, we live and learn in the tension of these two competing realities, simultaneously and boldly. We do so full of hope that this tension will reveal, not a more confused understanding of creation, but a fuller one. We do so fully aware that the journey of faith and reason – as well as our common destiny – is infinitely richer than what either our hearts or minds alone could conceive.

This week’s column is written by Fr. Tim Scully, CSC, Professor of Political Science and Chair of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). He can be reached at scully.1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.