DSCN5641Great White Egret

The more fully we grasp the simple realness of the world, the more fully are the objects of our attention worthy of gratitude and praise.

The novelist John Updike put it this way: ‘Ancient religions and modern science agree: We are here to give praise. Or, to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention.’

…seventeenth-century philosopher Nicholas Malebranche…said, ‘Attention is the highest form of prayer.’ The art critic John Ruskin wrote: ‘The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and to tell what it saw.’

—Chet Raymo
When God is Gone Everything is Holy

Sea Stacks at Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula

Knowledge is an island. The larger we make that island, the longer becomes the shore where knowledge is lapped by mystery. It is the most common of all misconceptions about science that it is somehow inimical to mystery, that it grows at the expense of mystery and intrudes with its brash certitudes upon the space of God. Aristarchus and Galileo felt the harsh consequences of that misconception. But in a world described by science, mystery abides, in the space between the stars and in the interstices of snow. The extension of knowledge is the extension of mystery. It is as Bernard says: “As a bee bears both honey and wax, so {God} has {within} both that which ignites the light of knowledge and that which infuses the taste of grace.”

— Chet Raymo, Honey From Stone

Morning Sky over Turtle Rock Farm
December 2010


I am up on my elbows, and the sliver of the new sun is perched upon my toes. That red shimmering light is ninety-three million miles away, eight light-minutes away. Almost instantly, the sliver becomes reattached to the body of the sun. Now the full solar disk mushrooms from the ridge, fattening until it balances on the skyline like a rolling wheel. The rising takes two minutes – two minutes for the Earth to turn on its axis one-half of a degree. I am flying toward the sun on my bed of stone at a thousand miles per hour. Two minutes from the first instant of dawn and it is fully day. All over Ireland salmon stir in their deep pools. The fair sea pinks shake in their sea-cliff hollows. And suddenly there is a huge booming noise, like a crack of thunder, and my first thought is that I have actually heard the sunrise, heard the wrenching report of the sun as it let go of the horizon. I quickly realize that what I have just heard had nothing to do with the sun. It was a sonic boom – a military jet, perhaps, on an early-morning flight to America. But somewhere in the mountains near the foot of Dingle Bay a hawk lets go of its perch and falls onto rising air, even as I fall toward the place on the horizon that has disgorged the sun.

— Chet Raymo, Honey From Stone. A Naturalist’s Search for God

The prayer of the heart is not garrulous.
It listens in silence, expectant.
If, as so many of the mystics said,
the creation is the primary revelation,
then it is when we listen
to what is
that we hear the voice of God...

‘The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible,’ said Oscar Wilde. And indeed the smallest insect is more worthy of our astonishment than a thousand choirs of angels. The buzzing business of a single cell is more infused with eternity than any disembodied soul. Even as I write, a flurry of activity is going on in every cell of my body. Tiny protein-based ‘motors’ crawl along the strands of DNA, transcribing the code into single-strand RNA molecules, which in turn provide the templates for building the many proteins that are my body’s warp and weft. Other proteins help pack DNA neatly into the nuclei of cells and maintain the tidy chromosome structures. Still other protein-based ‘motors’ are busily at work untying knots that form in DNA as it is unpacked in the nucleus of a cell and copied during cell division. Others are in charge of quality control, checking for accuracy and repairing errors. Working, spinning, ceaselessly weaving, winding, unwinding, patching repairing – each cell like a bustling factory of a thousand workers. A trillion cells in my body humming with the business of life…

To say that it is all chemistry doesn’t demean life; rather, it suggests that the fabric of the world is charged with potentialities of a most spectacular sort…

Many of us seem to believe that anything we can understand cannot be worth much, and therefore – most especially – we resist the scientific understanding of self. But the ability to know is the measure of our human uniqueness, the thing that distinguishes us from the other animals. Understanding the machinery of the spirit does not mean that we will ever encompass with our science the rich detail of an individual human life, or the infinitude of ways by which a human brain interacts with the world. Science is a map of the world; it is not the world itself. Nature loves to hide, said Heraclitus, those thousands of years ago. He also said, ‘You could not discover the limits of soul, not even if you traveled down every road. Such is the depth of its form.’

— Chet Raymo, When God is Gone, Everything is Holy; The Making of a Religious Naturalist