Friday, July 28, 2006

Nothing too wonderful...

For the earliest Irish Christians, exceptional events do not occur because of the interventions of a supernatural being who suspends the ordinary course of things, but rather because of the marvelous potentialities inherent in nature itself. The scholar John Carey tells us that for the authors of the early Irish Christian texts, a reluctance to believe in "the full extravagant strangeness of existence" amounted to blasphemy.

I love that phrase. The full extravagant strangeness of existence. It should be engraved over the door of every science building in the world, just to remind us that the nets of words and numbers we throw to catch the world invariably let most of what matters slip through the mesh. And, as a matter of fact, over the door of the physics building at UCLA, where I spent two delightful years immersed in the study of science, was inscribed Michael Faraday's similar aphorism: "Nothing is too wonderful to be true."

The earliest generations of Irish Christians sought out and studied whatever scientific texts they could find, and took what they found there as the most reliable revelation of the Creator. They applied the potentialities of the natural order even to explaining the so-called miracles of Scriptures. For these remarkable Irish men and women of the 5th to the 10th centuries, God did not manifest his power in providing exceptions to the natural law, but in the full extravagant strangeness of nature itself.