Walking on Water?! What Science, Art and Religion Have in Common

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I love the television program Cosmos. This summer I have been reading Carl Sagan’s book, Cosmos, on which the TV series is based, which goes into things a lot deeper. It is ironic that many Christians wonder whether Sagan believed in God or not. Sagan is understandably critical of narrow religious systems, which throughout history have snuffed out so many new ideas and discoveries, because of fear. One thing I must praise about my own religious tradition (Lutheran) is that Martin Luther felt that any religious system which is not open to questions worships a God who is much too small. My own opinion is that science is God for Sagan. For myself I would tweak that to say that the source or force behind all science, art, and religion, the source and force behind all that is is what Sagan calls science and I call God.

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What I love about science, art, and religion, is that they all open themselves to something expansive, something greater than we are, to things which many people might say are “impossible,” to “walking on water,” so to speak. Sometimes I wonder, what did Newton and Galileo, Kepler and Einstein, Michelangelo and DaVinci, Bach and Beethoven, and I would add Sagan and De Grasse Tyson (the astrophysicist who now hosts the Cosmos TV series) have that most people do not have, except this belief (faith) that what we previously thought impossible may in fact be possible? Belief that there is something bigger than we are? Faith that there is a highly intelligent design behind it all, and I would say, a highly intelligent design points to a highly intelligent designer, viz., what I call God.

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This past weekend I had to preach on the story of Jesus walking on water. I can no longer read that story in the bible without thinking of a little book by Madeleine L’Engle, called Walking on Water: Reflections on Art and Faith. (Interestingly L’Engle is an artist, who weaves Einstein’s theory of relativity and Planck’s quantum theory into her young reader’s books.) L’Engle said that people of faith and artists (and I would add scientists) are alike in that both have a dream deep in their hearts, a passion, a calling, a vocation, if you will, to live in that something bigger, in that more expansive worldview. Both realize, deep down, that they are here for a purpose. Both desire to live their dream, their purpose, their passion, but sometimes FEAR gets in the way. She urges all of us to take that leap of faith, and “just DO it”— to “walk on water!”

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My three young adult children are artists. My son is a musician, writer and photographer. My older daughter is a painter, quilter, and singer. My youngest daughter is a musician and actor. In the past few years all three of them have thanked me for always encouraging them to live their dreams of being artists, however impractical that may seem to others. Until just a few years ago I would have never called myself an artist. Then my spiritual director said to me, “Are you kidding? You craft a sermon each and every week. You are a storyteller, writer, dancer, photographer.” So I guess I am an artist also. In fact, I think deep down, we all are called to be artists, and scientists, co-creators with God.

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I remember being twenty-one years old and in my first year at Harvard Divinity School. I took a course called “Faith Development, which is based on developmental psychology. For that course I wrote a paper on the young adult dream (the dream of “what am I going to be when I grow up?”), one of the markers of the young adult stage of development. Then about five years ago, I had to write another paper for my spiritual direction program. This one was to focus on the mid-life or older stages of life. My paper focused on the mid-life crisis. The ironic thing is that when I wrote about mid-life crisis, I realized that for many people it comes about because they never fulfilled their young adult dream! At some point in the young adult life, they let FEAR win. They set that dream of their heart on the shelf, because, after all, it was not very practical. But setting aside the God-given dream that lives deep in your heart does not sit well with our spirits. It also does not serve the world, or Cosmos! In fact it leads to mid-life crisis. But like the Chinese character which can mean both crisis and opportunity, maybe mid-life crisis can also mean a second chance. A second chance to get out of the boat! A second chance to say “What the hell have I got to lose?” A second chance to follow that dream in your heart, and (drum roll) to walk on water!

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Every scientist and every artist knows that at some point when you are experimenting, researching, painting, composing, choreographing, writing, creating…something bigger than you are takes over. At that point you can either put on the brakes, or go with the flow,, the wind, the breath, and sail, fly soar, get out of the boat and walk on water!
So…to all you young ones, who are coming to realize your dream, I say “Go for it!” You will be much happier when you reach my age. And to those who are mid-life or older, I say “Go for it!”
What would have happened if Einstein had listened to those teachers who told him he never would amount to much? Thank God Einstein realized that ”There are two ways to live your life: one is to live it as though nothing is a miracle; the other is to live it as if everything is a miracle.” I choose the latter way. How about you? May we all have the courage to get out of the boat, and to walk on water!

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May you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.

Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 12, 2014

Photos Credits:  Me literally walking on water in a salt lake, Turkey (the salt content was so great in this lake that it actually provided a solid surface on which to walk, which was covered by just a few inches of water); the Napali Coast, Kaua’i; an amazing tree, Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii; boats in Newport, RI; my two oldest children, Zach and Victoria, singing at our wedding; my youngest child, Juliana, at the opening night of her acting and directorial debut, at Muchmores, Brooklyn, New York; our dogs and their friends, Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI; okay, he is standing on a rock, not walking on water:)

I love the television program Cosmos. This summer I have been reading Carl Sagan’s book, Cosmos, on which the TV series is based, which goes into things a lot deeper. It is ironic that many Christians wonder whether Sagan believed in God or not. Sagan is understandably critical of narrow religious systems, which throughout history … Continue reading Walking on Water?! What Science, Art and Religion Have in Common

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2 thoughts on “Walking on Water?! What Science, Art and Religion Have in Common”

  1. Another great post Linda.  Timing on this was great as I sent it to a 17 year old High School student I’m mentoring who is into the arts [stage, music, dance].  The message should be inspirational to him. Those ‘little ones’ as I remember them are doing great all grown up now. A great single mom you were.   Blessings, frank

    1. Frank, Yes, what a blessing that they all turned out well! I always appreciate your feedback. I am glad you shared it with your young friend. Art takes courage! Blessings to you. Linda

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