Brother Astronomer: A book interweaving science and religion

How can someone be a scientist and a Jesuit Brother?  Brother (and Dr.) Guy Consolmagno explains how is Brother Astronomer:  Adventures of a Vatican Scientist.  My co-worker lent this to me before I went to Rome for the 2010 European Planetary Science Conference.  Both he and several of my co-workers know Consolmagno, and going to the home of the Vatican while listening to amazing science all week was a great gift!  I started reading the book on the way there, and it provided the perfect travel/ book combination.

 

"Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist"

 

While I have never understand the conflict between having a strong faith and believing in science, it certainly is a hot topic.  I work in the science field and live in the Silicon Valley, and many in particularly intellectual crowds dismiss huge portions of religious folks, with all religious folks being cast as “fundamentalists”.

Consolmagno delves into the subtleties of these issues, instead of broad generalizations about religious zealots OR the atheist scientist.  If one is very fundamentalist in their belief of religion or science, that person may not be swayed by this book (but who knows?!)  I do think this is a great book that articulates a few key points:

  • Science is often like faith in God:  it can be misconstrued and made a zealot religion, but it can also be a gateway to service
  • Science is a way to uncover the mysteries of God’s creations
  • Brother Guy is a person like anyone else!  He has some comical tales of field science, and is human in his frustrations and (comical) interpersonal relations

Overall, the book reads very well and I would recommend it to those who have a foot in both science and religion, but have never stood in them with unified belief.  The book really integrates the two, and reveals both how science is done and a bit of the religious lifestyle as well.  It does include some fun science gathered from meteorites, which lovers of science will enjoy.  The ending is slightly abrupt… but it leaves the reader wanting to hear what of “adventures” this Vatican astronomer has had.

Labyrinths

Labyrinths seem to be serendipitously finding me lately. First there was the random mention in a recent AAA magazine. Then a book I was reading mentioned it. The third appearance of a labyrinth I literally stumbled onto, and crystalized the point that labyrinths must have a special meaning for me right now. I was walking in Palo Alto at night and came across the labyrinth below, which I returned to later to photograph and walk through properly.

All Saint's Episcopal Church Labyrinth, Palo Alto, CA.

All Saint's Episcopal Church Labyrinth, Palo Alto, CA.

For some disambiguation between labyrinths and mazes, see Wikipedia. Basically, a maze in a puzzle where you try to get to a certain end point opposite where you enter, and there are tricks and turns, while a labyrinth is a single path to the center, also with turns, but you don’t get ‘lost’. Labyrinths also have a spiritual element, and are featured prominently in churches. Many you see nowadays are based off the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France. The labyrinth shown above is one of those.

The proper tour of a labyrinth consists of three parts: 1) the winding path to the center, representing the twists and turns in our journey of life, and how you are suppose to release them as you come to the center, 2) time spent resting and reflecting in the center, receiving what is there to receive, and 3) returning down the same path of life, but now joined with a Higher Power.

Interesting stuff for reflection. I would love to hear others’ experiences with labyrinths. They seem fortuitously brought into my life. I also have had the chance to walk the (same design) labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Simply stunning.