(Okay, well if you want to nitpick, it was a black architect, Julian Abele, rare in his day.)
You know how every once in a while the Spirit moves me to the point of writing about it? It usually happens when either something especially awful happens (“Why, dammit, how could You?”) or I witness something astonishingly and surprisingly beautiful (“Okay. No one but You could do that, thank You very much.”) Well, it’s Sunday, so brace yourselves. Rather than play “name that cathedral” I will tell you that Rich and I are spending the weekend at Duke University in Durham with my darling Snarl. Lord, how she lights up my life. The others certainly do as well and yes we love them all THE SAME, but when we rank them (which we only do very rarely, in the dark of night, after one or the other or three have called with an “issue” and we’re feeling that combination of irritation and worry that comes with the lifetime contract and worthless warranty against defects) she has been, for awhile now, the most nearly perfect child in the universe. Not that I’ve forgotten years 16 through 19 or the time she pitched two full gallons of simmering spaghetti sauce into the living room where the 100 percent wool carpet and the hand printed and screened wall paper were but a week old. Anyway, this weekend is one for counting blessings because we arrived to her lovely little duplex rental and she gave us her bed, with sheets fresh out of the washer and the house was spotless (“It’s not usually like this; it’s only because I knew my obsessively clean mother was coming”- she has such a way with words. At least she hasn’t suggested we sign me up for the “What Not to Wear Show” again.). The cat is purring and we’re having so darn much fun.(I took all these photos without a flash so they have a certain ethereal fuzziness; still worth enlarging)
Enough. Yesterday she mentioned that we might go to church this morning; she was particularly interested in hearing the organs. After remembering the concept of “church” as it’s been a couple years, I was thinking along the lines of a small campus chapel because we have never before been here to this beautiful campus and I had no idea what the Duke Chapel looked like, or sounded like. Neo-gothic style, complete with flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and pointed arches. The carillon is 210 feet high and houses 50 bells, the largest weighing 11,200 pounds. The chapel has 3 distinct organs of various dates and styles, totaling almost 13,000 pipes. That’s correct. The chapel also has a powerful and angelic choir and this morning there was a full brass section as well. We heard a Bach Chorale Fantasy prelude and a Bach Postlude. Thank You, so very much.
Bonnie was suggesting I have unfinished posting business in her most recent erudite comment; she might have just been wanting some mention of those pesky but victorious Spartans. The Duke Demons and the Wolverines also won their games yesterday, as did USF. Is that everybody? But I think she was alluding to news about my dear friend’s medical condition. She did finally hear from her doctors and the news was as good as could be expected, short of a misdiagnosis confused with say, a bad case of indigestion. She does indeed have a very aggressive form of cancer but it is at a stage that suggests they captured it all surgically. She is still looking at six months of chemotherapy and possibly radiation. We were recalling the last time she went through this and if memory serves the week before the next round of treatment in any given 3 week cycle is the best so we will plan some partying and frolicking on those weeks. I suggested she come sit on the porch in Florida in January and since most people there are already bald it will be just fine. She laughed hard and then made a crack about the caulk they glued her together with coming apart if we kept laughing (whatever happened to stitches or even staples? Caulk??) and we laughed some more. But this is a scary time and even if I don’t write much more on the subject (it is her business after all and I don’t want to take outrageous liberties with her privacy, especially since she reads here…) her friends will continue to pray for her and send good energy and food and bad jokes her way during the months ahead.
One thought I have had though, these past couple weeks reading up about her particular diagnosis and treatment options, is thank God for the miracle of modern medicine. People often use that phrase: miracle of modern medicine. Really, it’s an oxymoronic thing to say because miracles are, well, what? Divine intervention? and modern medicine is hard core science, tax dollars and grants and gray matter intensely focused on finding the right formula, the right solution, the right biochemistry.
I’m not rambling. I’m trying to tie a couple of things together but parentheses keep getting in the way. At the root of it is that I am always on the fence about my faith. Some days, I am envious of the likes of Cathy or Bonnie and those who seem to come to matters of faith so readily, on good faith as it were. Most days, I’m with Robin and the notion that miracles don’t happen nor are people looked at with a jaundiced eye by God; good and bad things just happen. On days when I do Believe, I usually believe along the lines that He is not personally scrutinizing my sincere volunteer efforts to care for the creatures of the field nor does he particularly mind that I have occasionally shoplifted dying plants from outside Publix (and I’ll deny that tomorrow). On those days I think that if there is a God then he has given me life, way back when, in collusion with some primordial swamp matter, and choice and free will and it’s up to me to decide what to make of my time here. It would be swell if I did it in the most Christian way possible, Christian being kind and charitable and peaceful and forgiving, which is often quite difficult. I know that bodies are just bodies, coming through the rye and yours can end up composting in the ground like Barney’s or on the glass display shelf, disguised as a lovely ceramic piece like my mother and father (cruelly ironic but funny that I mingled them in death, yes?). Souls and spirits are something I can’t figure out at all, whether they even are, let alone how they go or maybe come again. Except that there are hummingbirds and humpback whales and I’d like to know what on earth you need to do to get those jobs.
All of this is by way of saying I don’t know, times a thousand and that, of course, is true for a lot of us and has been puzzled over by some of my favorite authors (I keep admonishing you, go read Thomas Lynch for some fun and wonder on the matter of faith).
And so there I was, sitting in this incredible house of worship, with two of the small cluster of people I love more than life itself, my ears twitching for joy, and I was considering all this and also whether I was worthy, with my shoddy beliefs, to ask for direct intervention for Roberta. (Sometimes my brain goes into a time warp thing, like a dream state, where I can cover a lot of ground in fairly short order. Mostly because it is skimming the surface.) The sermon began. Today’s sermon was the season opener, marking the beginning of the academic year and the pastor played to a full house. The topic was The Role of Science.
He spoke about why it is such a blessing for science and theology to belong in a university alongside one another. He said, among other things, “The more that science discovers about life, about the universe, about the tiniest detail and the mightiest power, the more one can only be amazed and enthralled. Yet if one has awe towards the known, one must have at least equal awe towards the unknown. The only trustworthy science is a humble science, which acknowledges the tentativeness of the known and the vast extent of the unknown. But the same is true of theology. There is so much that remains unknown, and claiming to know more than we do, especially if it’s done with a hectoring tone and without a listening ear, substitutes arrogance and ignorance for true faith, and attracts the antagonism it deserves.”
The rest of the sermon was, to me, equally appealing and smart and thought provoking. He ended the sermon with this: “Scientists of Duke, be humble. Remember that science is an art and that what you study is clay, being constantly fashioned and refashioned. Christians of Duke, be humbler still, and remember that science is a form of wonder, and that these scientists, if you let them, will teach you to wonder, to love and to pray.”
I said a prayer for Roberta and the science that might help her yet again. I remembered that at my mother’s memorial service (she was an agnostic of the first order) Abby had paid a tearful tribute to her grandmother’s stewardship of the earth and sea by saying that she hoped to follow her passion in her own life. Then I said another prayer for Abby, as she starts her doctoral studies in environmental and marine science.