Truth or Story?


Babies are born—every day, everywhere—full of promise.  Oh, wait, I’m starting to repeat myself.  Didn’t I just say that in another blog?

It’s true, though, so it bears repeating.  But on a lighter note than my last blog, today is the 27th anniversary of my becoming a mother.  And like almost every mom, on that day when my daughter was born, I might as well have been the only woman in the world who had ever given birth.

Never mind that as the nurse laid my baby girl on my chest for the first time, I could hear a woman grunting and groaning in the delivery room next to mine.  Never mind that I’d been listening to other mothers tell me horror stories of labor, delivery, and motherhood for nine months.  Never mind that I’d been given fair warning of sleepless nights, colicky infants, the anxiety of being a working mother.

It amuses me now that women told me I’d “forget all about the pain of childbirth” and in the next breath shared the gritty details of their own pain.  I’m certain they must have shared stories of joy with me.  But I don’t remember those.  And since we didn’t have timelines on social media back then, there’s no record of the funny stories, the stories of unbridled joy.  So I only remember the bridled stories—the ones that start with feet in the stirrups.

I do have a reminder from one of those women—an easy recipe for a busy mom day that a friend gave me on a note-card.  (Remember those days?  Before you kept your recipes in the Cloud?) The design on the card shows a mom holding a screaming baby, and the caption reads, “Being a mother is very educational….now I know why ferrets eat their young.”

I wonder if it will be any different for the young mothers I know now.  I love following them on social media as they offer snippets of their lives.  I empathize when they share challenges, but the stories I remember are those that touch my heart or make me laugh.

There’s the picture that needs no caption—my friend’s little boy lying on his tummy on a bookshelf, his fingers trailing along the cover of a book he isn’t yet able to read.

There’s another friend’s story of making banana bread from a recipe given to her by her son’s birth mother.

And there’s the friend who writes a few lines of dialogue in the style of a play script:

Dad: A thinking cap isn’t a real body part.

Son: Yes it is. Mine is in my pants.

Some day if they sit down at a computer to write their stories, they’ll have a wealth of notes and pictures to remind them of all the facts that were important enough to remember.  But even then, their children will probably say to them, “That’s not the way that happened.”  That is the nature of story.

Even now, when we have so much technology at our fingertips, recognizing the difference between story and truth isn’t an exact science.  I’m reminded of this yet again in the controversy over Dr. Reza Aslan’s recent book Zealot, in which he distinguishes between Jesus of the gospels and Jesus of history.  After converting to Christianity and being told by church leaders that the Bible is “true, literal and inerrant,” Dr. Aslan made it his life’s work to study the history of religions.  Of Jesus, the man from Nazareth, he says, “But in the end, he is the only Jesus that we can access by historical means.  Everything else is a matter of faith.”

I don’t understand why some of the people who share my faith feel threatened or outraged—why there is a perception that Christianity is under attack—when a scholar decides our faith is “a myth,” as Aslan pronounced it in one interview.  I can read research about the context of Jesus’ life and not necessarily draw the same conclusion as the researcher.  As Aslan admits in another interview, there are many scholars who read the same research and come to a different conclusion.  As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Each time I learn something new about the stories of faith, I’m reminded that the God I believe in will always be bigger than we can understand.  Every faith that’s lasted—Christianity or Islam or any of the other faiths that sustain believers—has withstood thousands of years of questions and doubt.

It is impossible to “prove” the absence or the existence of God.  But it is possible to draw strength and wisdom from the stories—the human stories that have as many variations as there are storytellers.

I look forward to finishing Dr. Aslan’s book, just as I enjoy hearing the stories of his life that led him to devote himself to the study of religious history and revert to the Muslim faith of his father.  History and his story speak to me far more than the interviewers who question his right to speak the truth as he understands it.

I enjoy hearing him for some of the same reasons I love knowing both the facts and the stories of my friends’ lives—because they reveal truths of what’s important to them in the telling.

And I find the same kind of joy in reading what one of my pastors called “the stories of God for the people of God.”  What is the truth of the Jesus who answered religious leaders with wisdom greater than their cleverly crafted questions?  The truth of the Jesus who fought zealously for the poor?  The truth of the Jesus who saw himself as one with God?

The truth is that every fact of history, every understanding of context, every story I’ve read—and I’ve read many that challenge my view of the world—helps me test what I believe to be sure it’s worthy of my faith.

It’s a historical fact that 27 years ago today, I had enough faith to bring another life into the world’s story.  But knowing that history can’t begin to express how that little baby’s life has become a unique story of her own—and how, in the process, she has helped me glimpse the face of God.

Tell me the stories of your truths that transcend history.

When Do Children Stop Being Sweet and Cute?

Williamson Children

Babies are born—every day, everywhere—full of promise.

My mother adored her babies—the five who survived and the three she lost before carrying them to term.  She showed her infants off as we cooed and laughed, and everyone told her how beautiful we were.

Somewhere in early childhood, though, children cease to be adorable, perhaps around the time they start to lose their teeth and become a little gangly, a little pudgy, a little mussed with the sweatiness of summer and outdoor play.  And as they hit adolescence, they become even less lovable, even to their own parents, who struggle to remember their cute children when they become pimply, moody teens who test the limits.

But my mother adored us even when she didn’t quite know what to do with us—a mother who was 31 when her first child became a teenager, 36 when her first child left for college.  She loved all of us fiercely even when two of my brothers became addicted to drugs in their 40s and when she lost a son to an overdose when he was 47.

My mother believed that somewhere inside that homeless, spiraling addict was the baby with the blonde curls that she kept in an envelope when he got his first haircut, the little clown who made her laugh, the teenage boy who played the tuba—the one whose band serenaded him from the parking lot of the hospital when he had his appendix out.  Somewhere inside the homeless son she hardly recognized on the day he died in her guest bedroom was the baby, the child who had been born full of promise.

She asked my sister and me again and again before she had a stroke that rendered her speech mostly unintelligible, “Where did I go wrong?”  In her last conversation with my other brother, at a time when he was clean and we knew where he was, she managed to get out the words, “Be good.”

But when things go terribly wrong and those babies born full of promise grow up to commit acts too terrible to imagine, our society wants to blot out any detail of a life that might suggest goodness once blossomed somewhere inside.  In the wake of the controversy over the portrayal of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the recent issue of Rolling Stone, I’ve watched contemplatively as the media once again plays to the two extremes and, in the process, boosts the sagging sales of printed news and magazines.

Yesterday I finally got around to reading Janet Reitman’s article insideRolling Stone and found it to be well-written, balanced—a good piece of investigative journalism.  The award-winning writer’s article has been all but forgotten in the controversy surrounding the cover photo, a photo that theNew York Times, interestingly, used on its cover more than two months ago to absolutely no controversy.

Why?  The more distance we have from such a horrific event, the more we want simple explanations for the complexities that foster human behavior.

We want our heroes to be full of goodness and light when they die heroic deaths.  If a policeman who is far from perfect dies in the line of duty, will we hear that she was often heard using racial epithets?  Doubtful.  If a fire fighter is killed inside a burning house after he passes a baby out a window to a colleague, will we hear that he beat his own children?  Probably not.

And we want our villains to be devoid of virtue, filled with only hatred and darkness.  Only by seeing them as incarnate evil can we stifle the fear that we could be the next victim of senseless violence.  Our brains seem incapable of understanding what a mother understands about her child—that somewhere, deep inside the unrecognizable person, is her lost child.  Only by painting our villains in silhouettes of beasts can we comprehend the incomprehensible.

Each time the unspeakable happens, I sit in front of the television screen and cry.  In the days after 9/11, my daughter, who was 15 at the time and struggling to understand what I couldn’t fathom at the age of 45, finally said to me, “Mom!  You can’t keep watching that over and over again.  You’ve got to turn it off, or you’ll never stop crying.”

When the pictures of the terrorists emerged, I never gave one single thought to the fact that each was once a baby—full of promise to a mother who loved him.  It is only as the perpetrators have become American citizens who seem to get younger and younger that I’ve looked at them and asked the question my mother asked, “What did we do wrong?”

We will never be able to completely prevent the horror of violence, to ensure that such a thing will never happen again.  But what if we did our best as a society to eliminate the conditions that give rise to insanity?  What if, instead of dissecting the dead villains afterward, we began to dissect a society that is much in need of healthy change—to excise the unhealthy tissue when we can do so without destroying the community we’ve worked for more than 200 years to build?

I know that life isn’t always baby smiles and colorful flowers.  But to grow a garden, we must first work together to plant the seeds and tend the saplings.

I’m exhausted by endless stories that insist on pure evil.  Tell me your stories of innocent babies who blossom into complex human beings.

Can’t Hope to Understand?


With thanks to my good friend Jude for today’s photograph

“I thought I’d share my poem with you, Ms. Fancy Writer…I was upset and came home and started writing…It turned into the first poem of my life,” my friend wrote.

Shyly, he shared a poem about something that meant a lot to him—a piece that may never end up in a literary anthology but one that will, even better, tell an important story to his children and his grandchildren.

I was moved by his poem, and I was touched that he trusted our friendship enough to share it.

This experience is a departure from what we English teachers are accustomed to hearing.  More often, people say, “Oh, you’re an English teacher?  I’d better watch my grammar.  I was never very good in English.”

I’ve heard this comment for years.  In the beginning I didn’t take it seriously.  I’d laugh and explain that I grew up in Appalachia with a father who butchered the language and a mother who knew the rules of grammar but seldom employed them in conversation.

It’s only now that my father is gone and my mother’s speech has been rendered mostly unintelligible by a stroke that I miss their rich vernacular.  While neither spoke standard English, Dad could tell a story filled with vivid imagery and colorful colloquialisms, and Mom, when the need arose, could write a letter to her children that let us know the depth of her disappointment, the boundlessness of her pride, the fierceness of her love for us.

After a few years in the classroom, I learned that all of us can speak and write when we believe we have something important to say.  And it bothers me more than a little that there are probably children I’ve taught who’ve grown up believing that they’re not very good at interpreting literature or writing their thoughts because I unwittingly sent that message to them in red ink.

Somewhere along the way I switched to a purple pen, and when my students asked why, I told them that I felt that the red made it look as if I’d bled the comments onto their papers—that their words had wounded me.  But I’m not sure changing the color of the ink helped that much.  We teachers sometimes send the message to our students that great literature is a mystery only English teachers can unlock, that writing is a skill that most of them can never hope to master.

And mine is not the only profession that unintentionally sends the message that great writing is only for the erudite.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that people aren’t reading as often and are going to church even less.

While many ministers stress the importance of reading the Scripture, they, too, sometimes inadvertently send the message that to truly understand, we must have the holy texts elucidated for us from the pulpit.  The churches of my childhood emphasized the importance of praying and reading the Bible daily.  But they allowed no room for questioning their interpretation.  The more progressive churches of my adulthood encourage reading and prayer, but many congregants give little thought to daily devotions between Sundays.

I was one of those congregants, even when I first served as an Elder.  I left the churches of my childhood feeling guilty for questioning.  I came to the denomination I chose in adulthood to hear that it was okay, even good, to question a Bible I’d largely stopped reading.  And it would be most of a lifetime before I found my way back to the stories that first caused me to ask life’s biggest questions.

For me, the journey began again when my daughter was a teenager.  It had been one of those frustrating days as a parent, the details of which I no longer recall.  If you’re a parent, you know the kind:  You try reason and logic, you struggle to maintain your own ability to think clearly, and she storms away from you and slams the door of her bedroom.  You stand on the outside of the closed door, trying to decide whether to demand that the door be opened or to walk away until you’re both more rational.

I sat down at the computer and typed the first of what would become hundreds of meditations for my daughter—not about laws but about love.  And as I pored over the holy texts for stories and verses that would speak to her questions and challenges, I found my way closer to the God I’ll never fully fathom.

But neither will any minister I’ve ever met.  And I have profound respect for those leaders who stand before us and admit their doubts, their questions—the ones who inspire us to look into the darkness to find the light, even when it waxes and wanes like the reflected light of the moon.

And perhaps, like my friend who wrote the first poem of his life, in the midst of our turmoil, we’ll find the lyrical, creative Spirit that awaits a yearning heart.

Avoid Discussing Religion and Politics?

Mom Me Beck

This post is dedicated to my mom, whom I love with all my heart.

This week I unwittingly created a firestorm in a social media group for people who grew up in my hometown.  When one of my friends posted a compliment for a county official who defended the recent placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the county courthouse (seeprevious post), I responded, offering a different perspective.  A relatively civil discussion ensued, but one commenter who was frustrated with my responses told me that on this blog, I have often offended Christians all over the world who pray and read their Bibles every day.

I have no wish to offend, but it is very hard to talk about religion and politics without offending someone, as author Joyce Carol Oates learned this month when one of her tweets offended pretty much everyone.  As New York Times author Frank Bruni, who interviewed her afterward, said, “Look critically at someone’s god and gird for the lightning.”

Since I began this blog, many of my friends and family have asked me why I try to engage in a discussion on such topics.  They espouse the belief that we should never talk about religion and politics in polite company.  But if we don’t, then we leave the discussion to people at the two extremes, which I believe is the biggest problem with our public dialogue.  Reasonable people don’t wish to offend, and because we don’t, we steer clear of topics that are difficult to wrestle with and leave the discussion to those we feel are incapable of hearing reason.

I believe, though, that our stories hold the key to helping us understand each other.  And so I want to share the story that started me on the journey of writing a book and creating a blog.

A few years ago my mother had a life-threatening stroke.  She had a DNR order on file, but when my sister left her side in the emergency room to call me, the doctor asked her, “Mrs. Williamson, do you want us to help you breathe?”

When my mother answered, “Yes,” the doctors intubated her, and for five days she lay unconscious as a parade of doctors told us that we should unhook the respirator because if Mom awoke from the stroke, she would be unable to do anything on her own.  Our friends and family prayed for our mother as we struggled to make a decision.

On the third day of our vigil, the on-call doctors changed, and a different neurologist showed us a scan of the bleeding in Mom’s brain.  He pointed to the areas that control speech, showing that none of the bleed had so far reached that area, and told us that if our mother woke up, she could be okay after some rehabilitation.  He said that if we had waited this long, it couldn’t hurt to wait for a couple more days.

Two days later my sister and I sat on opposite sides of Mom’s bed.  We had both told Mom that we would miss her terribly but that it was okay if she let go and went to be with God and Dad and our brother who had died tragically a couple of years before.  I sang hymns softly to her, and my sister talked about family.

And much to our surprise, she opened her eyes.  By the next day she was talking.  And after two months in rehab, she was able to walk again with a walker—much as she had done prior to the stroke—until a year ago when she had a much more debilitating stroke that has left her unable to communicate more than a few words or an occasional sentence.

In the time between the two strokes, I called Mom nearly every day on my long commute home from work and visited her whenever I could.  And I learned things about her faith that I had never known before.

I knew that Mom had never gone to church.  I knew that the church of her childhood forbade drinking, wearing jewelry or pants, cutting her hair, and, most strictly, attending any other church.  I knew that the church leaders believed that she and Dad were going to hell.

Dad?  I understood their condemnation for him.  He was a hell-raiser.  He drank, gambled, and routinely broke most of the Ten Commandments until an encounter with a bad batch of moonshine made him re-examine his life.  He softened as he aged, but I never once heard him talk about God except to invoke a curse.

But Mom?  She sang hymns as she cleaned house. She never cursed, never drank, never smoked.  She told her children frequently that it was a sin to lie and to hate.  Even when Dad lost his job and we lived on government assistance, she told us that we needed to be grateful for our meals because there were children starving in other parts of the world.  Not once did I ever hear her covet what belonged to someone else or see her break any of the Ten Commandments.  She faithfully watched religious programs and Billy Graham revivals.  She taught me by example that believing in God was as natural as breathing the air.

I was stunned, then, when Mom admitted to me that she was terrified of dying and believed she might be going to hell.  She told my sister and me that she had read the Bible twice and said, “That book is the most violent book I’ve ever read in my life!”

I reasoned with Mom.  My sister arranged for her to talk with a therapist.  I gave her books by authors who wrote beautifully about a God who is more about grace than fear.  I prayed with her.  She had no doubt about my faith or the state of my soul.  She was certain that I was going to heaven, but she had no such blessed assurance for herself.

In the last conversation I had with my mother about faith before her second stroke, she told me that she knew on an intellectual level that God was full of grace and that nothing could separate her from the love of God.  But she said she just couldn’t escape the teaching of her childhood.

Now Mom is in a nursing home.  She can’t walk, go to the bathroom alone, or dress herself.  She can speak only a few intelligible words, though she chatters to us and kisses us repeatedly when we visit.  She can feed herself, but that, too, is getting more difficult.  But still she fights, her will to live astounding the doctors who have predicted her demise many, many times.

Why does she fight?  She can no longer tell us.  But I suspect it has more than a little to do with that emotional shroud of fear that God will exact vengeance for some vague list of sins no one has ever seen her commit.

I don’t wish to offend—even those who fervently disagree with me.  But as long as I draw breath, I’ll tell this story and my own stories in the hope that I can offer comfort and peace to people like my mother.

Whatever your faith, please help me tell stories of grace.  Our world is much in need of them.

May it be so.

Do Unto Others?

Osprey Family

Osprey Family, Duck, North Carolina, 2013

Last summer our grandson, then four-years-old, came to stay with us for the first time.  His parents were working long hours to open a dental practice, and they grudgingly consented to allow us to fly him from Denver for an extended summer visit.  We shared him with my husband’s ex-wife, and for several weeks, he enjoyed two trips to the beach and visits to nearly every kid-friendly attraction in the DC area.

A picky eater, our grandson had learned to try new things, much to the delight of his two grandmothers.  When I discovered he loved my homemade blueberry muffins, I sent him back to his other grandmother with some of them.  She told him he could have one after dinner, and when she couldn’t find them, she discovered that he had hidden the container underneath his bed so that he could have one whenever he wanted.

For most of the visit, we had great fun, and when one set of grandparents needed a break, the other stepped in and took over.  But near the end of the visit, all of us were tired, and our grandson was more than a little homesick.  One morning at breakfast, I made pancakes, a food he had always loved, but this time he wailed, “I don’t want pancakes!”

My husband tried reason, and when that didn’t work, I knelt by his chair, at eye-level with him, and said, “Honey, you love pancakes.”

He said nothing.  But as I waited, he pursed his lips and pushed the tip of his tongue through just slightly.

At first, thinking he was going to stick his tongue out at me, I stifled a smile.

But then he began to push spittle through his lips and with a slight Pfft, he spat just enough to land the spit in the space between us.

“Honey!  Would you like it if Nana spit at you?” I asked.

To my dismay, he worked up more drool and spit again, this time a little farther but still just short of hitting me.  While I had to admire his aim, I had no intention of allowing him to work up the courage to spit a third time.

And for the first time in the long visit, my husband and I went into parent-mode instead of grandparent-mode.  My husband picked him up from the chair and put him in time-out, and the ensuing battle exhausted all three of us.

Before it was even dark that evening, our grandson asked to go to bed.  My husband helped him brush his teeth and change into his pajamas and then retreated to the kitchen to clean up the dinner dishes while I helped our grandson choose a bed-time story.

But before we started reading, he looked up at me, his lips trembling slightly.  “I’m sorry I didn’t treat you the way I want to be treated, Nana.”

I hugged him to me and thanked him for apologizing.  And I realized that he had actually heard all those times that I had reasoned with him using some version of the Golden Rule.

I thought about my grandson’s behavior a lot this week.  I had my feelings hurt on two separate occasions, once by a colleague and once by an acquaintance on social media.  I’ll spare you the details, but in one instance the Golden Rule eventually prevailed, and in the other, it did not.

Someone who knows me well said to me—not for the first time—that I “take things too personally.”  And I do.  In fact, I’m not sure how not to.  I try very hard to treat others as I would like them to treat me, and when I fail, as we all do at times, I’m usually pretty quick to apologize.

Though I have to work a little harder at forgiving someone who doesn’t employ the Golden Rule, I believe there’s a reason that concept is expressed not just in Christianity, but in every major religion.  Here are some of my favorites from other faiths:

One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. (Yoruba proverb)

One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire. (Hinduism—Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8)

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn. (Judaism—Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

As we prepare for our grandson’s summer visit next week—a much shorter one than last summer—I look forward to seeing how a year has changed the way he approaches the world.  And I’ll remind him, as I sometimes need to remind myself, that our love and care for each other is the true story and that all the rest is commentary.

So tell me a story of your baby birds.

Ten Commandments on the Courthouse Lawn?

At the end of a long weekend celebrating the freedoms of my country, I logged on to Facebook to find that one of my friends had shared a post from the page of Micheal Cochrane, the prosecuting attorney of Wyoming County, West Virginia.  On a page available to the public, Cochrane’s post solicited comments from his friends in preparation for his response to reporters about the placement of a monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the county courthouse.

After national media attention resulted from the documentary Oxyana, which chronicled prescription addiction in the area, local church and business leaders erected the monument in what they say is not an attempt to force religion on anyone but rather to inspire people and combat the drug problem.  County officials and residents are understandably frustrated with the rising crime rate resulting from prescription drug abuse—a complex issue for which I share their concern, given that I’ve lost one brother to addiction and am likely to lose another.

I grew up in Oceana, the site of the film, so I was not surprised to see that the overwhelming majority of comments favored leaving the monument on the courthouse grounds.  What did surprise me was that a lawyer would solicit commentary on Facebook before crafting a response to the media—until I learned that he was appointed to office in March after the previous prosecuting attorney accepted a job in state government.  So Cochrane must be elected to keep the job he has sought.

Among the comments that have been posted are several by staff members who work in the prosecutor’s office.  One poster believed the monument should remain but advised his friend Cochrane that the law was not on his side and that he was fighting a losing battle.  At the time I read the comments, fewer than five advocated the separation of church and state and the removal of the monument.

Clearly, the legal argument is not one that proponents of the monument are apt to hear, though these are the same people who celebrated joyously on July 4th the freedoms no Christian has ever had to question for the past 200 years.

And so, as a fellow Christian who believes fervently in the right of all people to religious freedom, I would posit to these people that the faith we share offers some valid reasons for the removal of the monument.

In the time of Moses, the commandments were preserved in a temple, not in the seat of government.  And from the beginning of recorded history, forcing people to accept a faith has never resulted in a religion that endures.  It merely ensures that when power changes hands, as it always does eventually, that the people of our faith will be denied the freedoms we have denied to others.  If my descendants live in a country where Christians are a minority, I want them to be able to practice their faith without repercussions.  Finding a way to coexist peacefully is the only way to safeguard the future of the religious freedom on which this nation was founded.

Insisting that the commandments be posted on government property is also contrary to the teachings of the Christ from whom we Christians take our name.  Even Jesus advocated separation of church and state, telling citizens that they should render to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s.  And, most importantly, Jesus never forced anyone to accept the Good News he shared.  Though thousands listened to his sermons and witnessed the miracles he performed, he never begged or forced anyone to believe he spoke truth.  Many are the stories of people he sadly watched as they walked away from what he offered.

If we believe that God’s grace is sufficient, then we must also believe that no monument made with human hands is necessary to Christ’s message.  In fact, when the apostles proposed building a temple in his honor, he quickly let them know they were heading in the wrong direction.

Growing up in Wyoming County, I learned about government in school and God in church.  My youth leader was also a teacher at the school, but she didn’t have to post the Ten Commandments in her classroom or preach to her students for people to see Christ in her life.  I find myself wondering how that changed in a town that has no hint of a non-Christian religion within its borders.

Erecting such a monument isn’t necessary and probably does the Gospel more harm than good.  Such actions make Christians appear desperately afraid that the message of Grace isn’t sufficient.  And what ultimately draws people to any faith is its ability to help us find joy and meaning in our lives.

So tell me your stories of a faith that needs no force, no fear, no monuments.

God Particles?


Though I love language and literature, I sometimes wish I’d had better science teachers.  Today was one of those days.

The Washington Post’s online version briefly posted a link to a story about a conference in Italy where physicists were discussing the Higgs boson, dubbed The God Particle in a book by Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman because his publisher refused to let him call it The Goddamn Particle, a title he wanted because “nobody could find the thing.”

The title started as a joke, much to the dismay of the man for whom the particle is named—Professor Peter Higgs, an atheist who first proposed in the 1960s that the universe acquired mass in a split-second when particles joined together before decaying into the commonplace, everyday components of the world we know and understand.

Generally, I wouldn’t pay close attention to such a complicated scientific principle.  But today I did because the illustration accompanying the article reminded me of a long-ago sketch in a textbook that accompanied one of my favorite poems when I read it for the first time, James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation.”

I once read the poem to my daughter when, as a three-year-old, she asked me how God got all those stars up in the sky.  I couldn’t explain the scientific principle of stars to a toddler, so instead, I read her Johnson’s poem, which says, in part:

And the light that was left from making the sun

God gathered it up in a shining ball

And flung it against the darkness,

Spangling the night with the moon and stars.

Johnson, best known as the man who catapulted the NAACP from being an organization of 9000 to one of 90,000, was one of my favorite poets, and this poem was my favorite of all his work.  When I read his poem, it brought the God of the Book of Genesis to life for me.  I could see and hear God flinging the stars against the sky and saying, “That’s good,” almost as if surprised at his own creativity.

So it was fascinating to me today when the illustration that accompanied the article in the newspaper looked very much like the sketch I’d seen so long ago in the textbook where I first encountered one of my favorite poems.

The artist’s rendition of the Higgs boson also reminded me of Michelangelo’s painting of the Creation, with the arcs of energy from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland looking eerily like all those cracks from hundreds of years of wear on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

And so I wondered, yet again, why devout Christians and respected scientists consider the Biblical story of creation incompatible with scientific principles.  I am in awe of both, and I find them to be in perfect harmony with one another.  I read the story of creation and picture a God flinging the stars against the sky the way an artist splatters paint on a canvas with utter abandon, and I’m amazed at how colors collide into something incredibly beautiful.  I read about the scientists who are so passionate about particles they are only beginning to understand, as I struggle to understand their explanation, and I am in wonder at the incredible energy of that collider that tries to replicate the tiniest components of existence.

Both take my breath away.  So here’s to the scientists who seek to explain the universe.  And here’s to the Creator, who fashioned a universe that, so far at least, is simply too wonderfully complex to comprehend.

I’m in awe.  What about you?