When I left my career at DuPont to be a stay-at-home mom, I figured I was done as far as careers go. It’s a decision one makes with a great deal of finality. You don’t re-enter the work force after you leave it like that.
I had no hesitation though, not then, and not now. I have never regretted that decision. I’ve had over a decade at home raising seven children, and yes, there have been many phases in those years when I struggled and felt incompetent, when I wished things had been easier. But in that tempering, with God’s grace and the love and support of my husband, I’ve become the mother I wanted to become, the woman I wanted to become. It’s all been a gift.
You can read an essay I wrote about it in Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families edited by Patti Armstrong and Theresa Thomas (Scepter Publishers Inc., 2013), see p. 57.
I never imagined that eleven years later, I would be a professor at a Catholic college teaching the science I love so much, all from home where I can still raise and educate my children. Check it out! Go ahead, click it.
I think this story is only going to get better. I long ago became disenchanted with the notion that teenagers need to be sent off to colleges alone while parents cough up tens of thousands of dollars every semester or go into debt. I can’t be the only parent who is thinking that “home-college” (i.e. online undergraduate enrollment) at a faithful and affordable institution is looking more and more like a great idea for my children’s future if they want to go to college.
You know how people say that in marriage sometimes one partner pulls the weight more than the other partner, but it is okay because someday things will switch around? You are there for each other in whatever way the other one needs, when the other one needs it.
Well, let me tell you a story.
Ten years ago I was a new mommy. I had a daughter who was fifteen and a son who was nine, and then I had a baby daughter who was fourteen months and a newborn daughter. Some of you know these people as Regan, Max, Abigail, and Grace. I had not been a very good mom to Regan and Max. Abigail and Grace were sort of like a new chance to get things right. So, I had it in my mind that I should be a model mom at the grocery store. For some reason, my motherhood depended on it.
We shopped at Sam’s Club. I took Abigail and Grace with me only five days after Grace was born. I had waited for months for this day, a perfect mom in her non-pregnant clothes wearing her newborn in the black leather way cool Baby Bjorn, pushing a cart holding her sweet toddler strapped in the seat, in a matching sister outfit, her little curls coiffed. The black leather baby carrier matched my black leather designer diaper bag and black leather shoes. And I would be filling the cart with the perfect foods for a perfect family, selected by a perfect mom who had it all together like a glossy cover binds a magazine.
Did I mention I had some anxiety issues?
We looked good strolling through the parking lot; the parting electric doors hailed our arrival with a becoming swoosh to my long hair. We’d arrived! Before I got to the first isle though, Abigail squirmed out of her seat and climbed into the back of the cart. “No problem, I’ll go slow.” By the time I’d traversed the first isle, she was out of the cart and out of control. The visual stimulation energized her. I tried to catch her without losing Grace and without making a scene. “It’s alright y’all. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” But Abigail was scurrying along the floor, removing boxes from the shelves and hurling them. The more I tried to calm her, the more rambunctious she got. Then Grace started crying because it was time to nurse again. Nursing! I hadn’t considered that. Then Abigail wanted to nurse too, so she started pulling at my shirt and trying to shove Grace out of the way. Then they were both crying. With one hand clasped around Abigail’s ankle to restrain her and keep her hands as far away from my shirt as possible, I tried to find my mobile phone with the other, Grace dangling from my torso. I remember feeling as if the colorful packages of food were swirling around me because I was drowning. Five minutes into it, I knew I could not complete the shopping mission. I couldn’t even get myself back to the truck. When my husband answered the phone, he heard this above it all, “COME GET ME.”
He did. Like the hero he is, he rushed to the grocery store and scooped us out of that awful place. Then he said, “You know Sweetheart, I’ll do the grocery shopping from now on. You stay home with the babies.” And then he did.
Ten years, two more daughters, and one more son later . . . you can perhaps appreciate the significance when I said this past weekend, “Honey, I think I’m ready to go back to the grocery store.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got it now.”
The kids are older. The girls are interested in cooking. The youngest, JJ, is three and a half. Life is real now.
However, the list Abigail made this morning . . .
Mini Pepperoni Pizza
Rice Krispy Treats
. . . is already stirring up bad memories.
But . . . these days, matching left and right shoes are even optional.
Mostly, I will find a way to repay my husband.
UPDATE: We did it! Two hours, a stumped toe, JJ climbing on top of the buggy, a few routine sister fights, a dropped jar of olives, and a mild headache, our kitchen is stocked. I nixed everything on the list except the brownie mix because we are making Daddy some brownies tonight! As you can see, some things never change.
Did you ever think about how human beings and trees differ? Trees are what they are. Any element, molecule, compound, computer chip, rocket ship, or plant exists according to a certain orderliness of matter. But the human being exists as a being in a radically different manner from inanimate matter or other living things. Even the noblest creatures are what they are independent of their own reason or will. No one can convince a dog, for instance, that he ought to act like a real dog (I’ve tried). Not so with humans.
The difference is our power of virtue.
Consider physical power. The power of a machine refers to the physical ability to do work. Hence, the maximum potential output from an engine is measured as mechanical horsepower, a comparison to the work that horses can do. When the machine achieves its maximum potential, we say the machine has reached the fullest expression of its capacity.
St. Thomas Aquinas defined virtue for human beings similarly as an ultimum potentiae. The German philosopher, Josef Pieper, interpreted this to mean “the utmost best a person can be.” Unlike elements, machines, plants, or animals, human virtue implies a lifelong perfection of the spiritual powers of intellect and will. Humans have rational souls, which instill us with the power to act rationally, to make choices, to love, to seek God.
Children, therefore, need to be taught to practice virtue so they can realize their fullest potential, worth, and goodness. To do this, they need love. Virtue begins with the highest love, caritas. Aquinas called this love the “mother and the root of all the virtues.” From their earliest age, children need to be told that God loves them, so they can discover true hope. They need to be told they ought to love God and reach beyond themselves for Him. Children need to be told they ought to find the goodness in the existence of God, nature, others, and themselves. In realizing such meaning and purpose, children need to be taught they ought to listen for the voice of God in faith.
Then children need to be taught they ought to be prudent, to have an openness to reality and to accept honestly the unveiling of truth through reason. Children need to be taught they ought to be just, to respect and love others, and give others their due. Children need to be taught they ought to be brave, and they ought to realize the good in the world, willing in fortitude to accept injury for the sake of truth and justice. Children need to be taught they ought to practice self-discipline so as to protect themselves from self-destruction. Children need to hear, “You ought to act like a human.”
Because they will if they are raised up in love.
In this modern materialistic age, most children never hear such things. Many children are treated as mere commodities, trophies, or inconveniences—but that doesn’t make them any less human. It only chains them from becoming who they were meant to be.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, Questions 55 and 62.
- Josef Pieper, An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), Essays “The Ultimate,” “Ought To” and “Seven Statements,” p. 3-8.
Originally published at The Integrated Catholic Life™.
After the introduction of the Big Bang theory by Alexander Friedmann (1922) and Catholic priest Georges Lemaître (1927), it was reported three decades later that still two-thirds of American astronomers thought the universe had no beginning, similar to the ancient pantheistic Greek belief in an eternal cosmos.
Today the Big Bang theory is accepted. In studying that beginning, scientists have learned how symmetry unified the gravitational and electromagnetic forces in the exponential expansion of the primordial cosmos. That symmetry, once broken, seems to give way to deeper symmetries so finely-tuned that scientists even muse the universe shouldn’t exist. The ongoing search for physical laws, however, led to the prevailing theory of “supersymmetry” and a search for ever-smaller, inter-related particles.
In the first roughly one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the universe’s birth, scientists are discovering a fine line between chaos and stability. Physicist and atheist Sean Carroll remarked that the mass of the latest discovered particle, the Higgs boson, turns out to be “right on the edge” in terms of the universe’s stability. Tia Ghose of Live Science described it, “A little bit lighter, and the Higgs field would be much more easily perturbed; a little heavier, and the current Higgs field would be incredibly stable.”
While it is inappropriate to extract theological meaning from incomplete scientific theories, it is insightful to note consistencies with Christian thought.
Obviously, the idea that the universe had a beginning is consistent with the first words of Genesis, and so is the idea of order and symmetry. St. John referred to Christ as the “Father’s only-begotten Son full of grace and truth,” using the Greek word monogenes to express “only begotten.” In ancient Greece monogenes referred to the eternally emanating cosmos. In Latin it translates as unigenitus, or universum. To Plato, the monogenes was the Unknown God, the universe itself. When John called Christ by the same words, it marked a radically different view of God and of the cosmos. The Unknown God was named the Christian God, a Trinitarian and Incarnational God. Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, became man. Christ, as God, created the universe. Christ, the Word, the Logos, is Rationality Itself.
Catholic physicist Peter Hodgson once wrote something similar to Carroll’s comment about the fine line between stability and chaos, but it was in reference to God and the overall order of the universe. “There is here a delicate balance between the rationality and the freedom of God.” To believe God set the world in motion and left it to run, leads to determinism. A God of unpredictable volition, gives us chaos. Both beliefs are inimical to the growth of science, and Christianity accepts neither.
In the context of Christianity, physical symmetry and fine-tuning give insight into the language of God who freely chose to create an ordered universe, but who interacts in human history and holds everything in existence by His will. That scientists, both atheist and Christian, search for such insight is evidence they trust such stability and symmetry exists. Is it any wonder that science was born in a Christian culture?
References and Further Reading:
- The survey of leading American physicists and astronomers is found in “How Cosmology Became a Science,” by Stephen Brush (Scientific American, Volume 267, Issue 2, August 1992); and this survey was referenced by Stephen Barr in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, p. 43) and by Christopher Baglow in Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (Mobile: Midwest Theological Forum, 2011, p. 145).
- I recommend Live Science for following the latest scientific news, and specifically Staff Writer Tia Ghose who interviewed me last December about the belief in the Virgin Birth. Tia is reliably objective in her reporting.
- For a discussion of St. John’s use of the word monogenes, see the essay “Christ and the History of Science,” in A Late Awakening and Other Essays by Fr. Stanley Jaki, priest and physicist (Port Huron: Real View Books, 2006, pp. 55-56). I also discuss this in my book, Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki (Habitation of Chimham Publishing, 2014, pp. 160-164).
- To read more about theology and modern physics, I highly recommend Theology and Modern Physics by Peter Hodgson (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005), particularly Chapter 11 “Chaos and Symmetry” and Chapter 2 “The Judeo-Christian Contribution to the Development of Modern Science.” The quote in the above essay was taken from the section of Chapter 2 titled, “The Origin of Science.”
Originally published at The Integrated Catholic Life™.
The first stillbirth Jaki discussed in the Savior of Science is the stillbirth of science in Egypt, “an Egypt to be buried in the sand.” In ancient Egypt (from about 3000 B.C.), impressive discoveries and achievements were recorded in history.
The Egyptians constructed grand pyramids of such majesty and awe that no one today knows how they did it. They invented hieroglyphics, a highly developed form of phonetic writing which may have been the greatest intellectual feat of its kind. They had medical arts. They were successful in using the Nile as an abundant resource. They adopted better weaponry and the use of chariots from other countries. The Egyptian king, Wehimbre Neco, who ruled from 610–595 B.C., sent a fleet to sail West, and the sailors traveled from the Arabian gulf into the southern ocean for three years until they returned to Egypt.
Egyptian social life revolved around practical skill. For the proper distribution of grain and other commodities, ancient Egypt relied on a system of arithmetic in which they took stock of and divided out resources with impressive book-keeping skills. They invented a decimal system with special glyphs for powers of ten up to one million. Their calendar endured uninterrupted use during all of Egyptian history, and the Hellenistic astronomers adopted it for their calculations. Ptolemy based his tables on this calendar in the Almagest on Egyptian years, as did Copernicus to some extent.
Ancient Egyptian craftsmen showed great ingenuity in using their tools. They had a simple but effective method of producing sheets of paper from the leaves of the papyrus plant, much more efficient than the use of animal skin as writing substrates. They were the first to produce plywood as many as six layers deep and made of mixtures of woods. Carpentry among Egyptians used methods of joining wood in intricate patterns for the hulls of boats as well as inlaying, veneering, and overlaying techniques. The burial chambers of Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty from the sixteenth century B.C. have received much publicity for their highly developed architectural planning containing secret chambers that even space-age technology and sensitive cosmic-ray methods could not detect.
The pyramids, however, constitute the real mystery in Egyptian marvel and ability. Their proportions were enormous. The Egyptian stonecutter placed the huge blocks of stone together with only 1/50 of an inch separation at the base of the pyramid and covered them with marble plates of such smoothness that the pyramids looked like mirrors. They managed to quarry, shape, and polish great stones despite the fact that they had no metal tools. Transportation of the great stones was done with wooden sleds. The overall master plan of the pyramids formed a superbly constructed facility to ensure the king’s journey to the Sun God.
Even with these achievements, the underlying theology and cultural mindset regarding the universe thwarted scientific advancement. “In their deepest meaning the pyramids were symbols of a conception about the world that nipped in the bud all scientific endeavors.” (Science and Creation, 79.) The Egyptians were caught up in an animistic, cyclic outlook that made them insensitive to science as well as history. In their hymns they pictured most parts of the world as animal gods, the whole world itself being one huge animal often depicted as a serpent bent into a circle. In a hymn from ancient texts, the animistic, organismic, rhythmic, and cyclic worldview is explicitly described:
He [the Indwelling Soul] it was who made the universe in that he copulated with his fist and took the pleasure of emission. I bent right around myself, I was encircled in my coils, one who made a place for himself in the midst of his coils. His utterance was what came forth from his own mouth. (Myths and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, 51.)
The Egyptians believed that the circularity in the sky and in nature was proof that the cosmos was changeless and cyclical too, and that single events or processes had little or no significance, which meant that they “simply could not serve as the carriers of special intellectual content.”
The Egyptians had the talent and the skill to notice that everything in the material world is in motion and is, thus, observable and quantifiable. They had the talent to realize that the scientific method could be applied repeatedly to answer questions about the universe, to determine scientific laws. They had the ability to innovate and the ability to communicate it. They demonstrated the ability to learn from other cultures. Science could have been born in ancient Egypt, but it was not. All of that progress came to a standstill, a stillbirth.
Jaki also pointed out that to argue that “the Egyptians of old failed to develop more science because they did not feel the need for more is an all too transparent form of begging a most serious question,” a conceited psychology. (Savior of Science, 23) If they had been but an animal species, they would have never even tried to innovate. They would have continued on their way with things as they were, just as all other animals do. There was plenty of evidence that they did long for something better. During the reign of Akhenaton, the Pharaoh known for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship of Aten, a monotheistic religion’s view, Egyptians responded in great number to dispose of long-established rigid art forms and seek “warmly humane representations of life and nature.” Egyptians seemed to want something better.
Yet after Akhenaton’s death the traditional religion was restored and Akhenaton became archived as an enemy. The longing is evident in the poetry the Egyptians sang, the inspiration they took from the animal kingdom in their carvings of animal and human combined bodies, effigies which now are, as Jaki put it, “buried in the sand as if to symbolize that there was no future in store for the Egypt of old.” (Savior of Science, 25) In a culture of pantheism, where the people saw themselves as part of an animate universe, modern science could have been born, but was not. Eternity consisted in assimilating to the cyclic motion of nature; souls that reached the stars were considered transfigured spirits absorbed into the great rhythm of the universe.
- Stanley L. Jaki, Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, Ltd, 1986), 68-79.
- Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 2000, 22-25.
- Jona Lendering, “The First Circumnavigation of Africa,” Moellerhaus at http://www.moellerhaus.com/Persian/Hist01.html.
- O. Neugebauer, “The Origin of the Egyptian Calendar,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1942), 396.
- R. T. Rundle Clark, Myths and Symbol in Ancient Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 1959), 51; quoted in Jaki, Science and Creation, 73.
Image: Public Domain
Excerpt from Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, Chapter 2 “Was Born,” Section “Stillbirths in Ancient Cultures.”