Posted by: dacalu | 18 January 2018

At the Border of Seen and Unseen

Last week, I was honored to preach for one of the Eucharists at the Society of Ordained Scientists‘ North American Retreat. This year, we met at Richmond Hill in Richmond, Virginia to talk about our calling as ordained scientists. That discussion was led by Bp. Nicholas Knisely.  I preached from a simple outline, but I’ve included the main points here.

Collect for the Society

Almighty God, Creator and Redeemer of all that is, source and foundation of time and space, matter and energy, life and consciousness: Grant us in this Society and all who study the mysteries of your creation, grace to be true witnesses to your glory and faithful stewards of your gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Genesis 1:1-5 (The First Day)

Psalm 29 (“Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name”)

Acts 19:1-7 (The baptism of repentance)

Mark 1:4-11 (John baptizes Jesus)


It can be hard to preach when you’re in the process of changing your mind.
Nick’s talks this week have me thinking and changing,
	but that’s part of what I wanted to say today, so it’s fitting.
I’d like to share with you two dualisms and a monism:
	that is two ways of dividing the world – 
neither of which I entirely agree with – 
and some thoughts about how to pull it all together.

We have a reading from Genesis about the First day,
	and that has me thinking about Philo,
	who may have been the first to suggest a dual creation.
The first day was, for him, a creation in light of ideal forms.
The other days, the material creation, began to work out the details
	of concrete physical things.
This dual creation inspired similar schemes in Augustine and Aquinas
	and eventually the familiar mind and matter of Descartes.
I think it also lies behind the line in the Nicene Creed about God
	creating all that is, seen and unseen,
	the invisible order and the visible stuff of creation.
I do not think there are two kinds of substances – mind and matter –
	but I do think we live at the boundary between the two.
I think we live at the intersection of the mental and the physical.
I also think that we, especially as ordained scientists,
	live at the boundary of the known and the unknown,
	the seen and the unseen.

Our readings from Acts and Mark also provide a dualism
	with two kinds of baptism:
		the baptism of John and baptism of Jesus,
		the baptism of water and the baptism of spirit,
		the baptism of repentance and the baptism of new life.
I’m not sure how best to interpret these passages
	and I don’t want to suggest that I have the best way,
	but I’d like to share my own thoughts on the two baptisms.
I see John’s baptism as reactive.
	It brings repentance and forgiveness.
	John’s baptism is all about turning away from what is evil.
But that is not enough.
It is not enough to turn away from the evil; 
we must turn toward the good.
We must orient ourselves in God and Christ.
Jesus’ baptism is proactive.
	It brings adoption and inspiration.
	It leads to growth.
It does more than save us from the evil;
it empowers us in the good.

The two can never be fully separated,
	but I think it’s useful, in both science and theology,
	to think about renewal in both ways.
We do more than falsify bad theories;
	in some mysterious way, we find good ones.
With C. S. Lewis, I think that there are infinitely more ways of being right
	than there are of being wrong.
When we focus too much on atonement, repentance, and salvation,
	we develop an anemic faith,
	one that can resist the bad,
	but cannot embrace the good,
	one that can deny the past,
	but not reach forward into the future.
Atonement, repentance, and salvation are crucially important;
	they are not the full end of baptism.
There must be more.
There must be a movement of the Holy Spirit in us.

And once again, we, particularly as ordained scientists,
	live at the boundary,
	where we are rejecting the bad, but also embracing the good,
	turning away from bad ways of looking at the world,
	but also promoting good ways.
Skepticism is not enough.

Some of you may be familiar with a book by Bill Countryman,
	Living on the Border of the Holy.
It speaks of our calling as Christians to live on the borderlands
	between the secular and the sacred,
	between life as we experience it and life fully in the presence of God.
We cannot cover the ground for people,
	nor can we act as an intermediary between them and God, 
	but we can be guides for others as they travel unfamiliar territory.
We can reorient them when they get lost,
	help them up when they stumble,
	and point out some areas where it’s easy to get bogged down
	or stopped altogether.

There is only one world,
	and all of us struggle to find our way in it.
Science and faith can be valuable tools for that, 
	when we use them rightly.
Ordained Scientists have a calling to help people in that process.

What do you do when you find yourself in sudden darkness?
	Call out?
	Light a match or turn on a flashlight?
In my mind, science is like a flashlight.
	It is this wonderful tool for dealing with darkness.
	We should always carry it with us and try it out.
And sometimes, a flashlight just doesn’t help.
	It shines over the edge of a cliff, or onto a black surface, or the battery runs out.
	Sometimes we need other tools and other strategies.
	We need to be prepared when our flashlight is not enough.
After all, sometimes the best response to the darkness
	is to let our eyes adjust.
And sometimes we can only lie down and sleep until the dawn.

The borderlands can be like that,
	the strange region between seen and unseen, visible and invisible, secular and holy.
They require patience and clear thinking and a variety of tools.
I think ordained scientists can help people use their flashlights,
	but I also think we are here to help people when the flashlight
		isn’t enough.
Science is narrow.
Faith must be broad enough to encompass the whole world.

I love God and I love the world that God has made.
This love keeps me looking.
It motivates my science and my theology as I try to understand,
	and nothing could stop me from my investigation.
Would you stop from following your beloved?

We know about relationships.
We know that they require both curiosity and commitment.
A relationship with curiosity but no commitment, cannot grow.
	It lacks the bonds that hold people together.
	It lacks the shared responsibility and care
		that make two people one.
A relationship with commitment, but no curiosity, grows brittle and frail.
	How can we say we truly love someone 
        when we no longer know who they are?
Our relationship with God and creation must be like this:
	committed to curiosity
	and curious about commitment.
We must be always looking and listening to hear.
We must be always responding and sharing what we have.

So, I would commend to you both curiosity and commitment,
	as you negotiate the borders of seen and unseen,
	and as you help others along the way.

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