The multiverse theory is fascinating. We have good reason to believe there are literally thousands of other universes besides our own, in-which the laws of nature, the physics of those worlds, may be very different from our own. Read The Case for Parallel Universes.
One of my favorite science writers, Alan Lightman, sees the multiverse theory as generating a crisis of faith in science. Why? Because the search for universal laws of nature, the idea that the universe can be reduced to a set of basic universal principles that apply in all instances, is the sine qua non of all the sciences. But if there are other universes, with different natural laws, then the dream of science, in some since, is a leap of faith. We can only know our own world and the one set of physical laws that govern it. And that’s it. Our search for ultimate scientific truths, in other words, that tie all of nature and reality together, our attempt to Knock on Heaven’s door, is a grand illusion.
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” — Leo Tolstoy
For over 25 years I’ve been fortunate to have worked in one of the most unique and impressive, if sometimes notorious, places on the planet: The U.S. Capitol or “Capitol Hill.” I realize there are many negative things we could say about the U.S. Congress, I suspect that’s always been the case, but if we’re honest with our mostly hypocritical and righteous selves we’d admit the problems are just a reflection of us, the mostly fickle, many times ill informed voter. But enough of that. I’ll save a elaboration on those thoughts for another time.
For now, I’d like to note my thoughts on an experience I had at the Library of Congress recently. But before I go on about that let me provide some background.
Let’s go back a little in history for a moment. In the lead up to Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration (March 4, 1861), the federal government believed there was an assassination plot against President-elect Lincoln. Because of this, the President-elect arrived in Washington DC, via train, under the cover of darkness. In the rush to get Lincoln into Washington during the night, Lincoln’s baggage was misplaced and along with it the Lincoln family Bible. The bags and the Bible would not make it to Washington in time for the inauguration and swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Building.
Saving the day was the Clerk of the Supreme Court, William Thomas Carroll, who provided a Bible he’d kept for official occasions. And it was this Bible, which Abraham Lincoln would place his left hand on and take the official oath of office, that became known as The Lincoln Bible. The only other U.S President to use the Lincoln Bible for the oath of office was President Barack Obama for both of his swearing-in ceremonies in 2009 and 2013. And then recently, September 14, 2016, the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, used the Lincoln Bible for her swearing-in ceremony. It was just prior, literally maybe 20 minutes, to Carla Hayden’s swearing-in that I got my chance for a personal viewing of the Lincoln Bible.
Reverence. In some sense, I think, reverence for events, people, or things that serve as important connections to the past is a waning virtue right now in our history. The “mystic chords of memory,” to quote Lincoln, connect us to a shared fate and a shared destiny.
I believe, have always felt, that some things should invoke a feeling of respect for great things and people and the sacrifices made in forming this great, if not perfect, nation. There’s a good reason the constitution begins with the words “to form a more perfect union.” A perfect union wasn’t possible. From the very beginning the founding of this nation was a compromise deal. The nation’s birth was only the beginning of a task, a continual building and improvement upon an experiment in democracy. The task of improving, of making a more perfect union, would always be the task of those who’d inherited this Democratic Republic. Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, and the civil war brought on by it, were the first great test to determine whether this experiment in democracy, this union, this “nation so conceived,” could be saved and preserved through the growing pains of forming a more perfect union. Lincoln and his vision, his leadership, thank God, prevailed.
And so there I was, standing there listening to Mark (a Library curator and guardian of the Bible) give me a brief history of the Lincoln Bible. I actually stepped up to the table and stood for a moment almost as if I were viewing a deceased friend or loved one at a wake. I looked down on the Bible and thought of so many things and that have come and gone since Lincoln laid his left hand on this Bible and took the oath of office and then, after his destiny complete, passed into “the ages.”
What immediately grabs you about the Lincoln Bible is how small it is. The Bible is an 1853 Oxford Press KJV edition. Its 6 inches long by 4 inches wide and about 1.75 inches thick. The Bible is bounded in a burgundy red velvet with gilt edges. The front cover is stained, worn, and faded with blackened stains along the spines edge. I thought of Lincoln’s left hand resting on the Bible as he began to recite the oath, the emotions he must have felt, and how his mind must have been occupied with the gathering storm of rebellion. And I thought of all the subsequent people who’ve held this Bible and reflected on Lincoln, his times, and what his presidency and leadership meant to the nation.
For those brief but solemn moments I felt privileged for this opportunity to be touched by those mystic chords of memory.
In a book I recently bought, I came across this fascinating poem by William Stafford.
Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hurt: ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.
Like many readers, I suspect, I like the poem even if I’m not sure exactly what it means. Stafford’s meaning is enigmatic, yet mysteriously attractive. There is something deeply alluring about poetry that takes us to the edge of our understanding and leaves us there searching the depths of our soul.
“When it’s quiet and cold and we have some chance to interchange without hurry, confront me if you like with a challenge about whether to me my life is actually the sequence of events or exploits others would see. Well, those others tag along in my living, and some of them in fact have played significant roles in the narrative run of my world; they have intended either helping or hurting (but by implication in the way I am saying this you will know that neither effort is conclusive). So – ask me how important their good or bad intentions have been (both intentions get a drastic leveling judgment from this cool stating of it all.) You, too, will be entering that realm of maybe-help-maybe-hurt, by entering that far into my life by asking this serious question – so: I will stay still and consider. Out there will be the world confronting us both; we will both know we are surrounded by mystery, tremendous things that do not reveal themselves to us. That river, that world – and our lives – all share the depth and stillness of much more significance than our talk, or intentions [bolding added]. There is a steadiness and somehow a solace in knowing that what is around us so greatly surpasses our human concerns.”  — William Stafford
Southern Louisiana is experiencing some serious flooding as most of you know. A good friend of mine working special security in Metaire, Louisiana, just forwarded me these photos from the New Orleans area.
The flood waters are deep!
Considering the depth of this flood, which is from torrential rains, you can’t help but wonder about the long-term viability of this area. This real-estate is at or below sea level. As global warming advances, the seas will continue to slowly rise and hurricanes will only get more intense. Poseidon will not be held back forever.